Here’s a trick from the Michigan legislature that you may not have heard about, especially if your only exposure is national news media. Any act of the legislature that contains an appropriation of money cannot be put to a referendum of the voters. This has been part of the state constitution since the early days of the 20th century, but was originally intended to ensure the state could always pay its bills. In the last few years, the legislature has turned this provision into a sort of a weapon, by attaching riders that contain a small appropriation to bills that otherwise wouldn’t need it. The latest Emergency Financial Manager law that was enacted when voters rejected the previous law has such a rider, so it cannot be put up to a popular vote. It is not the only measure protected in this way.
Bill Lucas, from metro Detroit, is leading an effort to amend the state constitution to bring an end to this trick. Voters for Fair Use of Ballot Referendum plans to circulate petitions beginning in April that will put the constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot in November 2014, if enough signatures are gathered. The wording is such that it should preserve the original intent of the constitution while eliminating the loophole that allows the legislature to put laws out of reach of the citizens.
I hate that the Michigan constitution has been such a punching bag for everyone and their brother with some minor thing to shoehorn into the document in the past decade or so, but this is an amendment that’s worthy of consideration. I hope we do get a chance to vote on it in 2014. The legislature has acted with such disregard for everything but getting its way, and it’s time to put some checks on this behavior. I don’t say this because it’s controlled by the Republican party; I wouldn’t want to see the Democrats pull the shenanigans we’ve seen in the last couple of years, either.