BALLOT BOX: Majority rule is fundamental to state's economy, democracy

'By Gilda Z. Jacobs

There's a lot of confusion surrounding the six proposals on the November 6 ballot but one thing is crystal clear: People who usually disagree with one another are coming together to oppose Proposal 5.

Proposal 5 is the so-called supermajority constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority of the legislature to approve any tax increases. It would damage majority rule in our state, which has served us well for the past 175 years, and it would hurt our economy.

That's why the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan, the Michigan Farm Bureau and other business-oriented groups have joined human and social services groups, such as the Michigan League for Public Policy, to oppose Proposal 5. Many of the business groups are legitimately concerned about damaging the state's credit rating should such a strict limitation be approved. A lower credit rating would increase the costs of road construction and public services.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is adamantly opposed, even joining with his 2010 opponent--Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a Democrat--for a YouTube video in opposition to Proposal 5. Likewise, business and labor joined together in opposition as did the usually diametrically opposed editorial page editors of The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.

Do not mistake this special interest ballot issue as a grassroots effort. The issue was placed on the ballot through the efforts of Detroit billionaire Matty Moroun, who also financed the collection of signatures to block a new bridge from Detroit to Canada that would compete with the Ambassador Bridge, owned by Moroun.

"Extreme." "Unintended consequences." "Dangerous." These are the words to describe Proposal 5, which has been opposed by every single newspaper editorial board in the state that has weighed in on Proposal 5.

As a former lawmaker who spent a dozen years in the House and Senate, I know how hard it is to reach bipartisan agreement to improve our state. But these compromises are so essential to growth and progress and they allow us to respond as need arises. Would we want to tie the hands of our elected officials if a Hurricane Sandy type of calamity were to hit our state?

With a supermajority, a handful of lawmakers--just 13 senators--could thwart the will of the other 135 elected officials. It would lock into place special tax breaks for corporations, no matter how successful.

We also know that a supermajority requirement (really a superminority requirement) is bad for the economy. The seven states with broad constitutional tax limitations fared worse in the most recent recession than states without them.

The supermajority requirement would allow a small minority to stifle necessary revenue increases supported by a majority. During an economic downturn, our elected legislators would be forced to reject a balanced approach that includes new revenue and instead make damaging cuts. That would mean recessions could be deeper and last longer.

It also locks in ineffective tax breaks for companies. It would take a simple majority to pass a tax break but a supermajority to end one. If a company is given a tax break to create jobs yet no jobs are produced, a small number of lawmakers could overrule the majority to keep that tax break.

In 2011, large, profitable Michigan businesses were given huge tax breaks without accountability and at the expense of individual taxpayers. With a supermajority requirement, it would be nearly impossible to reverse these tax breaks.

Michigan's economy has already suffered from cuts to education, preventive health care and child abuse prevention. From 2002 to 2010, state investments in these areas were cut 25%. State revenue sharing, which funds local public safety and other community services, was cut by $4 billion from 2001 to 2011. The result is that more than 3,500 law enforcement jobs have been eliminated, despite increasing need since 9/11.

Majority rule is fundamental to Michigan's democracy and economy. A supermajority requirement would undermine both, tying the hands of our elected officials far into the future.

With so many people speaking up against Proposal 5 the choice is clear: Vote NO on Proposal 5.

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Gilda Z. Jacobs became president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy on Jan. 3, 2011. Prior to that, she was in the Michigan Legislature, serving eight years as a state senator and four years as a staterepresentative from Huntington Woods. She made history as the first woman floor leader in either chamber of the Legislature.

Published: Fri, Nov 2, 2012

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