Memorandum 1121, September 2012
On November 6, 2012, Michigan voters will be asked to amend Article III (General Government) of the 1963 Constitution by adding a Section 6a that would require a statewide vote before the State of Michigan constructs or finances new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles. An additional local vote may also be required before construction of a bridge or tunnel.
Proposal 2012-06, commonly referred to as The People Should Decide, was placed on the statewide ballot by citizen initiative. This constitutional amendment is introduced in direct response to the proposed construction of the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. The main proponent backing the proposal is the owner of the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, which will compete directly with the proposed NITC for business.
Constitutional Statewide Vote Requirements
If Proposal 2012-06 is adopted, a statewide vote would be required before the State of Michigan could construct or finance a new international bridge or tunnel for motor vehicles (“new” being defined as a bridge or tunnel opened after January 1, 2012). In addition to obtaining statewide voter approval at a general election, a new international bridge or tunnel would have to obtain the prior approval from the voters in each municipality where the proposed bridge or tunnel is to be situated. It is possible that the local vote result of the statewide vote could serve this purpose; however, it is also possible that local approval could be obtained at a separate local election other than a statewide general election.
A unique procedure for placing a bridge question before voters is outlined in Proposal 2012-06. This procedure differs from the procedures employed to place other questions on the statewide ballot, with the key difference being participation by the state legislature. Under other procedures involving a statewide vote of the people, with the exception of certain direct democracy powers (i.e., the people’s right to initiate laws, hold a referendum on laws enacted by the legislature, and amend the state constitution), the legislature plays a key role. For example, Article IX, Section 15 of the Michigan Constitution requires a statewide vote at a general election before the State of Michigan can issue long-term debt backed by the full faith and credit of the state. In this case, the Michigan legislature must initiate the process by approving a proposed borrowing question by a two-thirds vote in each chamber before sending the question to the voters at a general election.
Similarly, the Michigan legislature can initiate constitutional amendments. Under Article XII, Section 1, either chamber of the legislature may propose an amendment. Each chamber must approve the proposed amendment by a two-thirds vote. Following legislative approval, a statewide vote at a general election or a special election is required to approve an amendment.
Also, proposed laws that are initiated by citizens can be approved by the legislature within 40 days in lieu of a statewide vote (Article II, Section 9). Only after the legislature fails to approve the proposed initiated law (without amendment) is the question presented to the voters at the next general election. The legislature can reject the proposed initiated law and propose a different law dealing with the same subject matter; however, the alternative law is required to be placed before the voters for approval or rejection at the next general election.
Under Proposal 2012-06, the procedure for placing a bridge question before voters will occur external to state government. It parallels the procedure for citizens to initiate legislation, with the exception that it removes any possible legislative involvement in terms of approving or rejecting the question. Specifically, for a bridge question to appear on the statewide ballot, proponents (not the governor or legislature) would have to gather signatures of registered voters equal to eight percent of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor at the previous general election. However, the legislature would not have an opportunity to approve or reject the question of constructing or financing a new international bridge or tunnel within 40 days. Instead, after gathering sufficient signatures, the question regarding construction of a new international bridge or tunnel would automatically appear on the statewide ballot at the next general election.Download Paper