The last time Michigan re-wrote its constitution was the early 1960s. The state was coming out of a recession and it was difficult getting balanced budgets passed. Most state revenue was locked into specific purposes, so it was difficult to manage money when a crisis hit. Unemployment was high. People were fed up.
On Tuesday, Michigan voters will be asked to decide whether it's time to once again overhaul state government with a new constitution.
An EPIC MRA poll says, right now, roughly 70 percent of Michigan voters believe the state is on the wrong track. That's an indication that a lot of people are looking for some big changes.
Politicians are campaigning on slogans that Lansing is broken and needs to be fixed, or promising to "re-invent Michigan."
Solving Economic Issues All At Once
There is a way to tackle a lot of those issues at once. Every 16 years, voters are asked whether they want to call a constitutional convention. Michigan has had three constitutions since it became a state in 1837. Re-opening the current constitution, adopted in 1963, would be an opportunity to revamp taxes, the structure of government and how the state budgets and spends.
"So much of the structure of state government that people have complained about is enshrined in the constitution," says Governor Gramholm.
She says many of the problems, missed budget deadlines, deficits and revenue shortfalls, and political gridlock, can be traced to a state constitution written almost half a century ago for the industrial age, and not the new economy. She says the current constitution's problems are so big, and so many, that it's not enough to pass a few amendments.
"You can do it individually on a piecemeal basis, but why not have a constitutional convention that looks at the whole structure of government?" she asks.
A convention could revisit Michigan's term limits amendment, flat rate income tax, and limits on tax hikes, as well as the ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions, permission for embryonic stem cell research at public universities, and prohibition on imposing the death penalty for crimes.
Rehashing Hot Button Issues
"We would re-live every hot button issue again, from abortion rights to affirmative action to stem cell research and on and on," says former state Representative Diane Byrum, who is opposed to calling a constitutional convention.
"We would also hit the 'pause' button on economic progress. We would literally cripple our state's economy. What business would want to expand or locate in Michigan when the rules of the game would be uncertain for so many years," she says.
If voters say "yes," the convention would meet in Lansing a little less than a year from now. Votes would choose 148 delegates, one from each state House and Senate district. No sitting members of the Legislature need apply. There's no deadline for finishing the job, but once a new constitution is drafted it would be submitted for voter approval. If it's rejected, the state keeps operating under the current constitution. Voters would not be asked again about a constitutional convention until November of 2026.