June 5, 2022
Signature fraud on petitions, great revenue news, budget negotiations, initiated law petition drives, and a first ballot proposal approval all made May and early June an exciting time.
CANDIDATES BOOTED FROM THE BALLOT
Veteran election watchers and ten candidates seeking State offices were shocked when the Bureau of Elections found widespread fraud in voter signatures on some candidate filing petitions. This resulted in their failure to have sufficient voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Five Republican gubernatorial candidates, half the field of Republican hopefuls, were affected by an alleged fraud ring implicating 36 petition circulators who are accused of creating 68,000 fraudulent voter signatures across the ten campaigns.
Governor Candidates — Candidates for governor must submit at least 15,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the primary ballot. Top contenders for the Republican gubernatorial nomination James Craig and Perry Johnson – along with candidates Donna Brandenburg, Michael Markey, and Michael Brown – were disqualified from the August primary ballot after the Michigan Board of State Canvassers deadlocked along party lines at its meeting on May 26 about adopting the Bureau of Elections report. Four candidates filed lawsuits seeking ballot access, arguing that the Bureau needed to individually review every signature presumed invalid, comparing each one with the signature on file in the State’s voter registration database, rather than using a random sample method. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful in convincing the Michigan Supreme Court to reverse the Board. The Bureau of Elections is likely to refer the matter for further criminal investigation by the Office of the Attorney General.
Others — Sixteen other candidates, including several incumbent legislators, were booted off the primary ballot because of false statements on their candidate filing papers about compliance with the Campaign Finance Act, technical flaws of various kinds, and insufficient or fraudulent signatures.
The Bureau of Elections sent a list of certified candidates to county clerks on Friday, June 3. Clerks will begin sending out ballots to military and overseas voters on June 18 and absentee voters on June 23.
INITIATED LAW PETITION DRIVES
The petition signature forgery scandal also affected some of the initiated-law petition drives. For an initiated statute to be considered, it must submit at least 340,047 signatures, or 8 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election. The deadline for filing was June 1. If the Bureau of Elections recommends certification of a voter-initiated statute petition’s signatures, and the Board of State Canvassers agrees, the measure will go to the Legislature. If the Legislature does not enact the measure in 40 session days, it will appear on the November general election ballot. If approved by the Legislature, it becomes law without needing gubernatorial approval.
At a June 1 press conference, Secure MI Vote announced it would not submit its petitions for several weeks and revealed a 3 - 4 foot stack of petitions it had identified as containing fraudulent signatures. Let MI Kids Learn A and B, the two Betsy DeVos-backed initiatives that would have created a scholarship program with tax credits primarily benefiting nonpublic K-12 students, similarly announced it was holding off from filing. These three measures were once passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Fair Lending and Others — The only initiated-statute petition drive filing petitions for Bureau of Elections review was sponsored by Michiganders for Fair Lending. Its proposed law would cap payday loans at 36 percent APR from the current 370 percent. However, a multitude of other groups circulating petitions, notably to raise the minimum wage and establish a "good time" credit program for prisoners to reduce their sentences, declared defeat and said they would instead focus on 2024.
Con Law Amendments — The voter-initiated constitutional amendments have until July 11 to submit voter signatures to the Bureau of Elections for review. These initiatives must submit 425,059 signatures, or 10 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election. SERA Coordinating Council endorsed the proposed voter-initiated constitutional amendment ballot proposal by Promote the Vote 2022 to expand voting rights. It is sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Michigan Voices. The proposal includes nine days of early voting, pre-paid postage on absentee ballot envelopes, secured drop boxes for every 15,000 voters, extra days of processing for overseas and military voters stationed abroad, absentee ballot tracking service, and other improvements.
STATE REVENUE AND BUDGET
A wonderful complexity this budget year is the boatload of federal stimulus dollars and a rebounding State economy with resulting increased State revenues. At the May 20 Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference (CREC), it was projected that Michigan has $3 billion more than was projected in the January CREC for the next fiscal year starting October 1, 2022, with declining surpluses thereafter.
The GOP legislative majority have passed their proposed budget bills and permanent tax cuts to the tune of $2.5 billion, a child tax credit of $500, and reduced retirement income taxes for some seniors.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has recommended relatively modest tax cuts that cost about $800 million annually: immediate $500 rebate checks to taxpayers to address inflation, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit to deliver an average tax refund of $3,000 to 730,000 working families, and elimination of the pension tax over three years. In a May 18 press release, the Governor again explained her pension tax reform:
“I’m proposing a repeal of the retirement tax, which would save 500,000 households an average of $1,000 a year. By the end of 2024, my proposal would again exempt public pensions and restore deductions for private retirement income, including private-sector pensions, withdrawals from individual retirement accounts (IRA), and the portion of a 401k account that is subject to an employer match…”
Her proposed budget includes substantial increases in expenditures for education, social services, local government, roads and bridges, and public health. Negotiations over final numbers are underway. There seems to be bi-partisan support for some temporary gas tax relief this summer because of the extraordinary increase in fuel cost for consumers. All involved hope for at least the education budgets to be passed and approved by July 1.
BALLOT PROPOSAL 2022-1
The ballot committee Voters for Transparency and Term Limits convinced the necessary two-thirds legislators to approve a watered-down version of its proposed constitutional amendment to change term limits to a maximum of 12 years (instead of 14) and mandate State elected officials to disclose personal finances. On May 10, without any public hearing and suspending the rules, the Michigan House voted 76-28 and then the Senate voted 26-6 on the same day to put the measure directly on the November ballot, avoiding the expensive and time-consuming voter signature-gathering process. Here’s the summary mandated to be on the ballot as Ballot Proposal 2022-1 by HJR R:
A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION TO REQUIRE ANNUAL PUBLIC FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE REPORTS BY LEGISLATORS AND OTHER STATE OFFICERS AND LIMIT SERVICE AS A LEGISLATOR TO 12 YEARS. The proposed constitutional amendment would:
The Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission issued its new Congressional, State Senate, and State House district lines on December 28, 2021. The new maps are now available to view online and for download on the body’s website.
After three lawsuits have been unsuccessful in challenging the new maps, there is a remaining legal challenge to the new maps from a coalition of African-American individuals and interest groups in federal court claiming a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. There is no time limit on filing lawsuits challenging the maps. More are expected after the first use of the new maps in the August primary and November general elections this year because there are fewer majority African-American Senate and House districts in the new maps.
Annual Defined Benefit Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) — There has been no movement on Senate Bill 775 to remove the $300 cap on the annual defined benefit pension supplement (COLA) that has been in place since 1987. Please continue to contact your legislators to remind them that their constituent State employee retirees are facing not only this year’s outrageous inflation but 30 years of inflation without any relief on our annual supplement. It’s not hard to pick up the phone and call their office to leave a message. Find your own at www.legislature.mi.gov.
Return to Work — House Bill 6132 would amend the State Employees’ Retirement Act to permit defined benefit retirees to return to State employment without forfeiting their retirement benefits after six months of bona fide retirement. Currently, selective retirees from some State departments and agencies who are rehired to fulfill certain roles, or those retirants who meet certain criteria to work in specific roles within these departments and agencies, may receive their retirement allowance during their re-employment with the State: Department of Attorney General, Department of Corrections, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (Michigan Unemployment Agency), Department of Natural Resources, Legislative Service Bureau, Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administration. House Bill 6132 would remove the existing exemptions and open re-employment opportunities to all State defined benefit retirees. Realistically it would benefit younger and healthier retirees still residing in Michigan in filling vacancies.
The bill was introduced May 24 and had its first hearing on May 26 so there was not much time for analysis. Michigan SERA put in a card supporting the bill but is concerned about impact on the defined benefit pension funding. The bill would provide an incentive to retire earlier than actuarily anticipated. Increased unfunded liabilities would be borne by the State through increased departmental costs for the State Employees’ Retirement System, which are assessed across all State departments as an equal percent of payroll. An estimate of the costs was not available for the hearing.
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