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Prop 13-Style Supermajority for Tax Increases Readied for Michigan Ballot

As long as we’re talking about ballot measures today, an initiative that recently filed in Michigan could do for that state what Prop 13 did for California. Specifically, it would restrict any revenue increases to bills that secure a 2/3 vote in the legislature, a virtually impossible scenario, given anti-tax intransigence on the right.

Michigan Alliance for Prosperity President Lana Theis said the group submitted more than 613,000 signatures and noted that requiring a two-thirds legislative vote to raise state taxes rather than a simple majority is good because it “will require agreement on both sides” of the aisle.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said he tried several times to get the measure on the ballot in the 1990s, but couldn’t get enough legislative votes. He said he it makes sense to require more deliberation and tougher requirements to raise taxes in Michigan.

But Zack Pohl, executive director of the liberal group Progress Michigan, said the measure was just an attempt by Americans for Prosperity-Michigan, which has the backing of conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch, to deeply cut government spending for programs that enjoy taxpayer support.

“This extreme Tea Party proposal would hamstring future legislatures, and force drastic cuts to education, roads, and public safety,” Pohl said in a statement.

The Michigan ballot is fast becoming a real battleground in the 2012 election. Other measures that will appear include an amendment enshrining collective bargaining in the state Constitution, a measure allowing home health workers to unionize, a 25% renewable energy standard and a repeal of the notorious “emergency financial manager” law that enables appointed, unelected officials to take over municipalities, rewrite labor contracts and change city statutes. Those are on the more liberal side of the ledger, but the 2/3 majority would, as it has in California, significantly constrain state finances and make it nearly impossible to push progressive goals in Michigan. The California version of this, Prop 13, enacted in 1978, has increased the prevalence of ballot-box budgeting and tied state finances into knots, essentially achieving many of the goals of the “drown the government in the bathtub” crowd.

With Michigan being a swing state, and with the expectation of significant resources from the Obama and Romney campaigns, important ballot initiatives like this have even more of an opportunity to get lost in the shuffle. But more often than not, these kinds of votes play a bigger role than any in a state’s political future.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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