ballot proposals: We endorse renewal of Washtenaw County natural areas preservation millage, but oppose two state ballot proposals
For the past decade, Washtenaw County residents have been paying a small amount to preserve natural areas locally, and reaping big dividends for the dollars spent.
Now, voters in the county are being asked to extend the Natural Areas Preservation Program, and they should do so as enthusiastically as they approved it the first time around.
On the ballot in November is a request to renew a levy of 0.25 mills for another 10 years for natural area preservation. This millage was first approved by a wide margin in 2000, when it was a new and unique concept that citizens would tax themselves to preserve natural areas.
Over the past decade, the program has generated some $27 million in revenue and led to the development of 17 nature preserves spread across the county, representing about 1,800 acres of protected land.
The admirable goal of this program is to identify and preserve sensitive and fragile natural areas, including lake and river frontage, mature woodlots, wetlands and critical habitat for native plants and animals. These areas not only protected, but opened to the public for passive use and enjoyment, as well as for educational purposes.
The award-winning program has been a fiscal and environmental success, and a model for other communities. The ordinance that created it was prudent in allowing up to 7 percent of the funds to be set aside for management and stewardship of these preserves, and this funding, along with volunteers, has allowed for the light maintenance needed to keep the land in its natural state.
We're also impressed with how the program has stretched its dollars and enhanced its successes by working closely with local governments, as well as with other conservancy and greenbelt groups.
While declining property values have reduced the dollars being generated by this small millage, the flip side of the equation is that land also now is more affordable. Going forward, the program would like to expand some of its existing preserves, and it still sees many opportunities to protect additional habitat.
For a county resident owning a home valued at $200,000, this millage costs $25 a year. That is a small price to pay for the benefits we all have realized through the land already preserved. We enthusiastically endorse the renewal of this millage and look forward to the continuation of this well-regarded program.
One of the concerns we've editorialized about frequently in this campaign season has been the broken nature of state government, and the need to fix it. The people who support Proposal 1 on the statewide ballot say they have the solution for doing that in one felled swoop.
Proposal 1 asks voters to convene a state constitutional convention, something that we as residents of Michigan have an opportunity to consider every 16 years. The last constitutional convention occurred in 1961-62 and results in our current Constitution, which voters approved in 1963.
Backers of Prop 1 say a constitutional convention would give the citizenry a chance to take back state government, and push through a variety of needed reforms to get Lansing working again. If the proposal is approved, a total of 148 delegates would be elected to convene and draft a proposed new Constitution, which would then be offered to the public for approval, perhaps as early as 2012.
We have talked to many people in recent weeks about this proposal, and have had trouble finding anyone who favors it. Opponents say it should be shot down on cost alone, claiming a constitutional conventional convention could cost $45 million, which the state can't afford. We suspect that figure is wildly exaggerated, but find other arguments against Proposal 1 more persuasive.
One concern is that a constitutional convention could drag on for a prolonged period, creating uncertainty and hampering efforts by the new governor and Legislature to enact reform. Even more worrisome is the possibility that convention could become a circus of special interests trying to impose their varying agendas on the state Constitution.
We don't see adequate safeguards against either of those possibilities, and absent that, we can't support Proposal 1. Tempting as it is to hope that 148 citizen servants could disappear into a room for several months and fix Michigan's problems, the risk of a convention going off the rails is every bit as real. That's a risk we don't recommend taking right now.
We also oppose Proposal 2 on the state ballot, a measure that would amend the state Constitution to prohibit someone from being elected or appointed to state or local office if that person has been convicted of a felony in the past 20 years involving dishonesty or breach of public trust. There is some dispute whether this proposal is specifically aimed at disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Regardless, the issue it raises is a narrow one, far too narrow to justify a constitutional amendment. The purpose of a Constitution is to define broad rights and responsibilities. A concern this specific should be addressed in the legislative process. We urge a "no'' vote on Proposal 2.