The people of Michigan really have spoken. Their voices and votes on Election Day sent a message of hope to citizens in every state worried about growing government cost and debt.
According to latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Michigan has approximately 700,000 workers who are represented by unions, which is 18 percent of wage and salary employees and almost 10 percent of the voting-eligible population. Yet still, 2.5 million voters said "no" to so-called collective bargaining protections. Only 1.8 million said "yes."
At the same time, and by about the same margins, voters defeated questions that would have empowered emergency municipal managers and amended the constitution to force home health-care workers to pay union dues and require 2/3 majority for the legislature to raise taxes.
If there is one bottom-line word voters communicated to politicians in no uncertain terms, it is this: control.
Overall, about 60 percent of voters said no matter what the question, they want to keep control, whether it is over who is forced to pay union dues or how many legislators must approve tax increases or what it takes to build a bridge or manage a bankrupt city.
On average, each proposal on the ballot drew about as many total votes as President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney combined. According to the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, Michigan had, as of 2011, the latest full year available, almost 143,000 state workers and about 375,000 local government workers. Including federal workers in the state, the total government workers were 571,000.
The latest BLS Union Membership survey found 671,000 wage and salary workers who were members of unions and another 32,000 non-members who pay dues.
Whether all of those individuals and their beneficiaries would favor collective bargaining can never be proven, but considering the fact that unions pumped up to $23 million into Proposal 2 and encouraged vigorous member support, the preponderance of evidence is that those who benefit would have voted overwhelmingly for it.
Even though union representation has dropped from 28 percent of the wage and salary labor force in 1989 to about 18 percent last year, Michigan is a residual bastion of union power compared to the average national rate of 12 percent.
If 18 percent of the wage and salary workers, representing about 10 percent of those eligible to vote, cannot get an economic stranglehold on an entire state,
Michigan becomes a beacon for average citizens indentured to a ruling clique of elite masters who have the power to extort ever increasing state and local taxes.
At the same time, these voters in this election sent a message that, more than anything else, citizens want to keep control.
The lesson for fiscal rights advocates all over America is that effective popular control over taxing and spending is possible, but it requires continuous, ongoing voter education and sustained effort to boost turnout.
Through the ballot box, citizens do have the power to tell politicians no means no!
Bob Williams is President of State Budget Solutions, a non-partisan organization advocating for fundamental reform and REAL solutions to the state budget crises. He is a former state legislator, gubernatorial candidate and official with the General Accountability Office. He is a national expert on fiscal and tax policies, election reform and disaster preparedness.
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