Michigan Supreme Court clears way for Detroit to vote for changes to charter

The Michigan Supreme Court cleared the way Thursday for a vote next week on major changes to Detroit's constitution that critics claim could ruin the city's delicate finances.

The state Supreme Court, in a 4-3 order, said the ballot question isn't doomed despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's refusal to give it her blessing because state law is silent on the impact of a governor's objection.

Giving the governor a super veto "would effectively disenfranchise the political voice and the vote of large portions of the Michigan electorate on matters of local concern, over which the state Constitution guarantees them a right to be heard," Justice Elizabeth Welch said.

The court overturned decisions by lower courts. Proposal P is already on absentee ballots that were distributed ahead of next Tuesday's election.

It was written by the Detroit Charter Review Commission after years of public hearings and other efforts to gather input. Proposal P would create new city departments covering disability rights, environmental justice, veterans affairs and economic justice. It would also create a task force to consider paying reparations to Black people.

Water rates and public transportation fares would be linked to income, free public broadband internet would be provided, and the property tax process would be tilted more toward struggling homeowners. 

The proposed changes include more programs for affordable housing, dozens of new elected positions and a restructuring of the police and fire departments, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

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Mayor Mike Duggan, who is up for reelection, opposes the proposal. Billboards around Detroit claim it could put the city back into bankruptcy and force cuts to public pensions.

"The proposed charter will have a sizable impact on the city's budget. It will mandate new costs, some of them relatively expensive," the Research Council said.