MOST Michigan voters may not know it, but when they go to the polls in November, they will face an important ballot question: Proposal 1 asks whether they want to call a convention that would draft a new state constitution.
That step should not be taken lightly; there always are risks in rewriting basic law. But it has become clear that the current Michigan Constitution - which was seen as a largely progressive document when it was narrowly adopted in 1963 - no longer serves the needs of a state whose government is stuck in gridlock and which is struggling to reinvent its economy for the 21st century.
The constitution has two main flaws. It outlaws a graduated state income tax, so that billionaires and paupers pay at the same rate. And it is too easy to change: Almost any interest group with enough money can buy the signatures it needs to get a proposed amendment on the ballot. Michigan's constitution has been amended more times than the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1787.
That ease of amendment led to a third major constitutional flaw in 1992, when voters passed a system of term limits that is among the harshest in the nation. That system gives lawmakers every incentive to kick serious problems down the road, making them worse in the long run.
Over the past decade, Michigan has been virtually paralyzed by inexperienced and hyperpartisan lawmakers of both parties who fail to work with each other. Something must change, and the risk of writing a new constitution is fairly small.
If voters approve Proposal 1, citizens then will elect 148 delegates to a constitutional convention, which would assemble in October, 2011. The delegates would have as long as they need to draft a document.
Once they do, the new constitution would be submitted to a statewide popular vote. If it is worse than the current constitution, voters can turn it down.
Most Michigan politicians and interest groups are dead set against a constitutional convention. Some of them fear the loss of their special privileges. Others make it clear that they don't trust the people.
But representative democracy is all about taking a chance and trusting the people. Michigan voters should try to fix what's clearly broken. The Blade urges a YES vote on Proposal 1, for a state constitutional convention.