Past mayor pushing for Michigan convention

January 15, 2010
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Although he isn’t on the ballot this fall, former Grand Rapids mayor John Logie is ready to take on the Michigan Chamber of Commerce over a statewide issue that will come before voters in November.

The three-term ex-mayor and the state’s largest and most powerful business organization are in opposite corners regarding the upcoming vote on whether a constitutional convention should be held next year. A “yes” vote, which Logie enthusiastically supports, could bring some startling changes to how state government operates. A “no” vote, which the chamber just as ardently backs, keeps the current constitution, which went into effect Jan. 1, 1964, as is.

Logie told a Grand Valley Metro Council luncheon audience of about 60 last week that he and a handful of colleagues plan to raise about $1 million this year to promote their point across the state. In the meantime, the state chamber has been marketing its stance on the issue since at least April 2007, when the organization’s board of directors recommended voting against the measure.

That is the same position the chamber took in 1994, the last time the constitutional convention issue was on the ballot, and voters overwhelmingly rejected it by a margin of 72 to 28 percent. The chamber opposed the issue in 1978, too, and it was soundly defeated by a nearly identical 70 to 30 percent.

Still, Logie remains optimistic.

“The one thing that I learned as mayor of Grand Rapids is not to underestimate the intelligence of citizens,” he said. “The first step is to recognize what needs to be fixed. The second step is to do something.”

Should a majority of voters call for a convention, a nearly unlimited list of issues could surface for the 148 delegates. Logie cited some that he thought the delegates could begin to wrestle with in October 2011.

**Changing the state’s tax system. When the current system was established in 1963, the state had a manufacturing economy and the tax structure was built around it.

**Having state employees, including lawmakers, contribute to their health insurance plans.

**Changing the state’s fiscal year so the state budget is more aligned with education’s calendar. If a budget isn’t ready in time, then legislators don’t get paid until it’s finished.

**Funding public safety through the state.

**Appointing justices rather than electing them.

**Dropping the division between road money and mass transit funds.

Logie did advocate consolidating government at the state and local levels. He said moving Lansing to a unicameral legislature with 81 lawmakers would save Michigan taxpayers $50 million a year and end the gamesmanship between the House and Senate that dominates Lansing.

Locally, Logie also liked consolidating the county with its cities, townships and villages, along with those in eastern Ottawa County. He said cutting those budgets — which total $700 million a year — by just 5 percent would save $35 million annually.

“Money is tight and it will stay tight for a number of years,” he said. “Cities are doing majestically well if they have a broad base.”

The Metro Council hosted the Michigan chamber’s Vice President of Political Affairs and General Counsel Robert LaBrant at an earlier luncheon to explain why the organization opposed a convention. 

LaBrant said one wasn’t necessary as the document has been amended 31 times through legislation action or petition drives. He also felt the process was too time consuming, as the convention that established the current constitution took seven months. He also felt the process was too expensive. He said the Senate Fiscal Agency reported that the cost of a convention would be at least $45 million, and that money could be used elsewhere.

Logie, though, felt that $45 million would be money well spent to get the state turned around. He pointed out that the state’s current spending plan totaled $23 billion, and the $45 million was less than 1 percent of that amount. “It’s a pimple on the back of an elephant,” he said.

The question of whether a new constitutional convention should convene appears on the ballot statewide every 16 years, as mandated by the constitution. The measure will come before voters again Nov. 2.

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