Saturday, October 2, 2010

Vote Yes on writing a new Michigan Constitution

Michigan voters have the opportunity to wipe the slate clean this fall when they are asked if the state should rewrite its constitution through a constitution convention. I think it is absolutely necessary that we start from scratch. Besides the obvious problems associated with business taxation, there are too many things that are built into the law that make our state uncompetitive and unable to adapt. Below are a few suggestions and reasons why we need a new constitution.

1. Restructuring of Michigan’s government, its bureaucratic structures, and its agencies so that it can adapt to the challenges of the 21st century. These challenges include sustainability, land use planning, protecting our environment, transportation planning, delivering services electronically, and building an economy that is immune to the busts and booms of the automotive industry.

2. Reducing litigation and incentivizing mediation. – Michigan is one of the highest litigated states in the country. Our progress is slowed by lawsuit after lawsuit. We have stalled in reforming our state for too long. It’s time to restructure our laws so that the costs (in time) of resolving legal disputes are minimized.

3. Bring back eminent domain – Detroit isn’t the only city that needs it. There are too many barriers in place to assembling land into larger parcels, and too many parties that can claim some piece of property. We’ve sprawled so far out and left too many pieces of land in ruins. We cannot think about land parcel-by-parcel, or even block by block. We need to think about smart growth on the regional level.

4. Reduce the size of Michigan’s legislative body. A well compensated, full time, two house legislature that takes until the last day of the year to complete a budget doesn’t reflect streamlined decision-making.

5. Roll back home-rule or mitigate the impact of municipality by municipality planning and bureaucracy.

6. Identify new tax revenue streams to fund new infrastructure.

7. Empower regional governance and regionally elected leaders.

8. Merge city and county governments where possible.

I am no expert on the law, but in my short time understanding how our state is structured, these are some of the reasons why we need to play a new game in Michigan.

Detroit Works Project, Phil Cooley, Rail, and articles

I attended the final open house of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's Detroit Works Project initiative. I can say that the hearts of Mayor Bing and those leading the initiative are in the right place. I wish the timeline for decision-making was more aggressive (because our region has waited too long for a comprehensive plan and strategy to address abandonment in Detroit), but this effort is more organized than anything every before. I submitted several suggestions to the Project team. I have some friends and colleagues on the 55 member Task Force, and I wish them luck.

I attended a speech at the Collaborative Group with Slow's Bar BQ founder Phil Cooley. Phil's community building efforts in Corktown are nothing short of awesome. As a member of Bing's Task Force, it will be cool to see how he can apply what he has done at the neighborhood level, and duplicate it on a mass scale across Detroit. Literally, how do you motivate people and a neighborhood to build something together with few resources?

Finally, I attended a public information session on the "Michigan State Rail Plan" - MDOT's efforts to promote passenger rail and high-speed rail. I was completely unimpressed. Basic questions about funding, why there wasn't a proposed corridor between Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids, and other basics of the whole effort were answered with a bunch of "I don't knows" or saying that progress and vision were dependent on political will. The whole effort speaks to Lansing's inability to get anything done. When billions sit on the table from the feds for high-speed rail, we can't get the basics together. I have little faith in MDOT's leadership or vision. Why these folks get paid salaries not to move Michigan forward boggles me.

Still have to watch "Detroit Lives" - the Johnny Knoxville piece.

Here are some interesting articles I've found. More comparative perspective and thought.

Driven Apart: How Sprawl Is Lengthening Our Commutes and Why Misleading Mobility Measures Are Making Things Worse - CEOs for Cities

Liberals, planning and trains - The Economist

Find ways to repair dysfunctional Legislature - Detroit Free Press

Windsor rail link 'vision' unveiled by Al Teshuba - The Windsor Star

Right-Turn Signal: Privatizing Our Way Out of Traffic - The New York Times

The Power of Density - The Atlantic

Reimagining Detroit - Wayne State University Press

How to shrink a city - Boston Globe

Reinventing Detroit: The road from ruin - National Post

There is Still No Way to Fund Sustainable Infrastructure in America - Huffington Post