News Story

The Cost of a New State Constitution

Whether residents approve a constitutional convention on this November's ballot may come down to how much it would cost to rewrite the state constitution.

But there is a disagreement over just how much it would cost.

Bill Ballenger, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, cited the often-used figure of $45 million as one reason against going the route of a constitutional convention.

"It is going to cost a lot of money," Ballenger said. "That will be one of the big arguments against it. These groups opposed to it will use that argument: 'Here we are in a time of fiscal crisis.'"

Whether the voters agree to change the state's constitution could come down to how much it costs, if you believe a recent poll.

The EPIC-MRA statewide poll in February found that 43 percent said they would vote yes to have a delegation draft a revision of the state constitution. But when told that it would cost $45 million, only 20 percent of those polled said yes.

Joe Carrasco, spokesman for the Senate Fiscal Agency, confirmed that they gave the $45 million figure to some state politicians who had asked for an estimate. Carrasco said that cost was based on the cost of the 1962 Constitutional Convention, adjusted for inflation.

Carrasco confirmed that the 1962 cost was $2 million, which covered the salaries for convention participants, rent, equipment, supplies and photos, according to a 2006 Legislative Service Bureau legislative brief.

According to the Consumer Price Index calculator provided by the U.S. federal government's Bureau of Labor Statistics, that adds up to $14.4 million today.

The Senate Fiscal Agency then adds the Secretary of State's estimate for what a state-wide election would cost — $9 million to $10 million each. The agency assumes that there would be three of these state-wide elections: a primary and then a general election to select convention delegates, and then another vote to approve the proposed new constitution that the delegates draft.

But Henry Woloson of Energize Michigan — a group in favor of reworking the state constitution — said it could be done for a much lower price.

He points to the same 2006 Legislative Service Bureau brief, which states, "a convention of similar length and scope today could cost around $30 million, including election costs."

"I would recommend budgeting $10 million of state funds for the operation of the Constitutional Convention," Woloson wrote in an e-mail. "The delegates would have to live within that budget. What is wrong with that? Funding from foundations and private sources could also be aggressively pursued. The cost of the elections would be extra and I defer to the people who handle elections to provide that figure. But, if I were elected as one of the 148 delegates, I would strongly recommend saving the cost of one election by having any proposed changes be placed on the August, 2012 primary ballot to save costs. This is an exceptional opportunity to demonstrate that government can be operated efficiently on a set budget."