In the last few weeks, Michigan has turned from an easy Obama pick up to an Obama-Romney toss up with the biggest poll showing the two presidential candidates in a virtual dead heat. But the bigger nail biter in the state is Prop 2—the union-backed Protect Our Jobs (and Screw Yours) initiative—that will make mandatory collective bargaining for public employees a constitutionally protected "right" and public employee contracts sacrosanct. It
doesn't matter if municipal and state budgets are near bankruptcy, if the union contract says that public employees are entitled to diamond-studded-platinum fillings in their molars, then any executive or legislature who tries to take that away could well find itself slapped with expensive lawsuits. A previous law that required unions to pick up 20% of their health care costs like other ordinary mortals in the private sector would almost certainly be declared null and void. And a leaked memo showed that among the provisions that the Michigan Education Association is planning to overturn in future contract negotiations are school notices informing parents that their kids are being taught by substandard teachers.
But what has really earned the ire of business groups—already upset that they would be on the hook for higher taxes as government costs explode—is Prop 2's attempt to constitutionally bar Michigan from becoming a right-to-work state. To date, there had been an uneasy détente between Michigan businesses and their Republican sympathizers, on the one hand, and unions, on the other, to keep the status quo on right-to-work in the state. In other words, conservatives had agreed not to push to make Michigan a RTW state in the foreseeable future if unions didn't try and prevent Michigan from becoming a RTW state at some point in the future. But after Indiana became the first Rust Belt state to adopt a RTW law, unions decided that they have to kill any possibility of Michigan ever following suit.
The upshot is the campaign equivalent of an arms race between the two sides.
Business groups fighting the proposed amendment have collected nearly $23.4 million, according to campaign-finance reports. The largest contributions came from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce (nearly $9.5 million), a Grand Rapids-based group called the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth ($3.5 million) and the Michigan Republican Party ($1.5 million). Large individual donors included casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam ($2 million) along with the DeVos family of Amway fame ($1.75 million).
Meanwhile, labor supporters have raised more than $21.5 million—led by $3.3 million from the United Auto Workers, $1.2 million from the Michigan Education Association and $1 million from the National Education Association.
All in all, this adds up to a whopping $45 million in spending—nearly $20 million more than the last most expensive campaign in the state and nearly $20 million less than the spending on the Scott Walker recall election.
So which side is winning? The latest polls suggest Prop 2 opponents. The Detroit Free Press reported earlier this week that the "nay" vote has solidified at more than 50%, according to an internal memo by Virginian-based TargetPoint Consulting. "The opposition to Proposal 2 reached 55% a week ago and remained at 53% with 11 days remaining before the Nov. 6 election," noted the Freep.
Two caveats, however.
One: TargetPoint is surveying only 150-200 registered voters each evening, and its margin of error is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
Two: A great deal will depend on the voter turnout for the presidential race. If Obama regains his near double-digit edge in Michigan and manages to rally his base—which tends to be pro-union—to the polls, the initiative might well come back from behind and win. If, on the other hand, Romney maintains his momentum and either wins or loses narrowly, the initiative could well be dead in the water.
Either way, the implications will be enormous for the rest of the country. As I have written:
The initiative is a radical – and risky—effort to reclaim the ground that unions have lost in Wisconsin and Indiana. If it succeeds…it will hand labor a field-tested strategy to enact pro-union laws in states that allow legislative action through referendum, even, perhaps, putting some Right to Work states in the non-Right to Work column.
However, if it fails, unions as we know them will be finished in this country. It'll create momentum for Michigan to become a Right to Work state, which will open the floodgates elswehere in the Midwest and the country. So the stakes couldn't be higher.
Film on November 6 but things are certainly not looking good from Prop 2 in Michigan—which means the rest of the country can cheer up.
Update: Guess who I got a robocall from this evening urging me to vote for Prop 2? Bill Clinton. That he should shill for his wife is laudable. That he should shill for Obama is understandable. That he should shill for unions and their morally bankrupt, fiscally irresponsible and economically illiterate proposal that even the Detroit Free Press, the state's liberal flagship, says should go down to defeat is retarded. (One can only hope he got paid well for it.) Here is what the Freep has said about Protect Our Jobs:
As rich as Michigan's collective bargaining history is, and as much as the Free Press supports unions and unionization, there is just no good reason to inculcate this policy issue into the state Constitution. Proposal 2 would handcuff local and state governments in their dealings with public employees. Even criminal background checks for teachers or drug testing for cops and firefighters would be subject to bargaining. Michigan just can't afford those kinds of limitations in an era when debt from pension and health obligations to current and retired employees are pushing many local governments to the brink of insolvency. The marathon litigation and administrative chaos that would be unleashed by Proposal 2 — as local and state governments scrambled to get basic safeguards back in place — would be a massive, expensive distraction. Proposal 2 would also make a constitutional right out of a policy prerogative, further muddying up a constitution that already addresses too many inappropriate issues.