« PreviousContinue »
A BRIEF REVIEW
THE AMENDED CONSTITUTION.
In the year 1866 the people of Michigan voted with great unanimity in favor of a conven. tion to revise the constitution. The convention was had; and although its work was not accepted by the popular vote, yet the demand expressed in 1866 for some changes in the organic law, still remains as the solemnly recorded will of the people. That this demand is still active and urgent, is shown by the numerous propositions for amending the constitution wbich come before the Legislature at every session. Some of its provisions, almost from necessity, have ever since its adoption been evaded or disregarded, and this has given strength to the constant demand for the removal of such provisions, that there may not be even the appearance of any necessity for violating the letter or spirit of the fundamental law of the State.' Under existing provisions, another revision by a convention could not well be had short of two or three years; because the question must first be submitted by the Legislature to the people, whether they desire a convention for the purpose or not, and if the people vote in favor of a convention, then the Legislature, at a subsequent session, must provide for the election of delegates, the convention must meet and do its work, and this must be submitted to the people for adoption or rejection.
In view of these circumstances, and of the difficulty of dealing separately with the several propositions of amendment that were brought forward, the Legislature, at its session of 1873, passed the joint resolution providing for the appointment of the Constitutional Commission.
The work of the Commission, as reported to the Governor, and by him transmitted to the Legislature, has been, after careful review and amendment by that department of government, submitted to the people of the State for their adoption or rejection.
The processes by which the amended constitution goes before the people, will commend it to their careful consideration and deliberate judgment. By the customary method of revis. ion by a convention, a proposed constitution goes before the people with the endorsement only of the single body which frames it. The amended constitution of Michigan goes to the people of the State as the result of the work of three distinct and independent official bodies : The Constitutional Commission, the Senate, and the House of Representatives.
While the character of the Commission was such as to command for its work the highest consideration, the Legislature nevertheless differed from its judgment in some important particulars.
Thus, while the Commission thought that the character of the judiciary would be improved by having the judges appointed by the Executive instead of being elected through the machinery of political parties, the Legislature deemed that the popular will demanded that the officers of all departments of government should be kept responsible to the people, and accordingly adhered to the elective system for judges.
Wbile the Commission thought it wise to provide that the Legislature might authorize the appointment of the Attorney General and of prosecuting attorneys, the Legislature deemed it best to retain the present mode of choosing those officers.
The Commission thought it prudent to leave the salaries of State officers and judges to be fixed by the wisdom of the Legislature. The Legislature, on the other hand, thought that the well matured judgment of the people was in favor of fixed salaries, and it accordingly proposed a scale of salaries which it deemed just and economical.
The Commission, to remove an ambiguity in the present constitution, provided specifically for three commissioners of highways in each township. The Legislature, in view of the great expensiveness of this system, remove the same ambiguity by providing specifically for but one commissioner.
While the propriety of restricting the power of corporations was strongly urged before the Commission, the majority of that body were averse to adding any new provisions on this subject. The Legislature, believing that the public good demanded it, has embodied several precautionary and restrictive provisions.
The changes proposed do not radically affect the system of government in the State, but are such as experience has shown to be necessary to restrain abuses, and to facilitate the administration of the laws, and they are commended, not as perfect, but as an improvement on the present constitution.
BILL OF RIGHTS.
The new constitution, while adhering to the common law standard for juries in courts of record, makes an advance step by permitting verdicts in civil cases by two-thirds of the jury, and provides that in criminal cases the death or disability of a single juror shall not prevent a verdict being given by the remainder. The cases are not few in which important trials have been proceeded with nearly to a conclusion, when, by the disability of a juror, the labor of days, and perhaps of weeks, has been lost, involving an entire re-hearing, to the delay of justice, and at great cost to parties and the public.
It provides that Senators shall be chosen for four years, and that the term of service of only one-half shall expire at the same time. This will secure stability and legislative experience in that body, which are essential at all times in at least one branch of the legislative department. It authorizes an increase of the number of representatives from one hundred to one hundred and ten. This is but a partial increase as compared with the rapidly augmenting population of the State, and it will enable the newer and smaller counties to be more fully and fairly represented,
By its terms all bills and joint resolutions, and all concurrent resolutions appropriating money or property, must be presented to the Governor for his approval. Under the present constitution, only bills and concurrent resolutions require the assent of the Governor. It would seem that joint resolutions, which frequently have all the force of bills, and appropriate money and property, do not require the executive sanction. This change, therefore, although apparently slight, is important as a protection to the public interests and to the public money and property.
To prevent the evil effects of local and special legislation, which has become enormous, it provides that the Legislature shall not pass laws of this character for the purpose of divorcing any named party, or upon the subject of divorce; changing the names of persons or places; regulating the jurisdiction and duties of justices of the peace, or constables ; providing for changes of venue in civil or criminal cases; granting any special powers to boards of supervisors; summoning and empaneling grand or petit jurors; regulating the rate of interest on money; authorizing the sale, lease, or mortgage of real estate belonging to minors, or by executors or administrators, or by any religious corporation or society; chartering or licensing ferries or toll-bridges ; remitting fines, penalties, or forfeitures; creating, increasing, or decreasing fees, percentages, or allowances of public officers; changing the law of descent; granting to any corporation, association, or individual, any special or exclusive privilege, immunity or franchise whatever; declaring any named person of age; extending the time for the assessment or collection of taxes, or otherwise relieving any assessor or collector of taxes from the due performance of his official duties; punishing crimes or misdemeanors ; adopting, by any person, any named person as his child or heir ; vacating or altering any road laid out by commis ioners of highways, or any street, alley, or public ground in any city or village, or in any recorded town plat; or for altering the boundaries of any school district, for building or repairing bridges, or for draining swamp or other low lands, except by expenditure of grants to the State; exempting any property from taxation.
Thus, all this species of legislation is prohibited, and provision made for the enactinent: of general laws by which such subjects will be referred to the local authorities, or to the courts, where they properly belong.
As pertinent to the question of economy of time in legislation which will be secured by this provision alone of the proposed constitution, the fact is stated that the general laws passed at the last regular session of the Legislature are comprised in a single volume of 583 pages, while the local and special laws occupy two volumes comprising 1,483 pages, a large part of which are special charters of cities and villages. The most of the time of the Legislature at every session is consumed in the consideration, discussion and passage of bilis of a local or special character, in which the public at large have no concern at all. Acts changing the boundary or regulating the affairs of a certain city, village or township, extending the time for the collection of taxes in some particular locality, changing somebody's name, legalizing, or trying to legalize, some illegal act, and other legislation of a similar character, that in nine cases out of ten can be better and more fairly and justly settled by local authorities, is forced upon the Legislature, sometimes even to the exclusion of business of general importance. The tendency in this direction increases, and every session witnesses a greater accumulation of this class of business. The expense incident to it is far greater than the per diem allowance to the members of the two houses and their attachees during the time they are so engaged ; for bills of this character are usually quite long, and the State is put to the expense of printing them, and if passed, of reprinting and binding them in volumes, which amounts at every session to no inconsiderable sum of money. Besides, as members generally know but little if anything of the merits of such measures, they must be explained to them, and this often creates the necessity for a lobby, Statements and explanations, warped and twisted by the prejudices of those making them, must be taken at second hand, without a full understanding or personal knowledge of all the facts and circumstances, and the result too frequently is not only expensive, but ill-timed and ill-judged legislation. Restrain the Legislature, as this constitution proposés, from enacting any but general laws upon the subjects enumerated, and its sessions will be much shortened, its expenses greatly reduced, and much of the dissatisfaction and complaint that arise from this special and local legislation, frequently resulting in protracted litigation, will cease.
It empowers the Governor to disapprove of specific items in appropriation bills, which will be a check upon the practice of carrying through unnecessary or unworthy appropriations on the strength of necessary and worthy ones, by combining them in one bill so that the whole must stand or fall together. It is one of the most valuable features of the revision.
It authorizes the establishment of such courts as may be necessary, and to facilitate the disposition of cases it has added one to the number of judges of the Supreme Court, which now consists of four. This is equally demanded by the increased business and by the necessity of having an odd number of judges in order to ensure definite decisions. As it now is, a circuit judge makes a decision which goes to the Supreme Court. If that tribuna) is equally divided, the decision of the circuit judge stands. Another circuit judge makes a
directly opposite decision in a case involving the same question. The Supreme Court of course decides as it did in the other case, and the opposite decision also stands, thus rendering the law uncertain, and dependent upon the varying opinions of the circuit judges. The new constitution will obviate this difficulty. It proposes also to reduce the nnmber of judicial circuits from twenty (the present number), to seventeen, and places restrictions upon their unlimited increase. It guards against the expense always attendant upon keeping officers, jurors and witnesses in circuit courts engaged in the consideration of petty suits, by declaring that the appellate jurisdiction of said courts shall not extend to any civil case in which the amount or value of the thing in controversy is less than twenty-five dollars, exclusive of costs.
It is generally admitted that the compensation paid to the State officers and circuit judges is wholly inadequate and insufficient for the work required of them in the personal discharge of the duties of their respective offices. This is so manifest in the case of circuit judges that many counties have, from time to time, voted them appropriations in violation of the constitution. Under the present scale of salaries, which was fixed by law when the cost of all commodities entering into human consumption was much less than now, the State officers cannot afford to, and with the single exception of the Auditor General, do not, reside at the capital and personally discharge the duties of their offices. They should do so, and not simply visit the place once or twice a month, while biring somebody else to do the work, the subordinate receiving nearly double the pay of the chief. The compensation should be sufficient to enable them to do this. The routine duties can be discharged by deputy, but there are other duties that cannot well be, if at all. For example, those connected with the Board of State Auditors. The officers composing that Board do not live at the capital, but go there at stated times. They arrange their matters at home, expecting to return at a given time. Parties come from distant parts of the State with claims and other business which they wish to present to the Board. The Board is on the point of adjournment. The business requires explanation which they have not time to listen to. It requires examination which they have not time to give. It must be put over, involving the expense of another trip to the capital by the claimant; or, if passed upon without due examination, it is at the risk of doing injustice to the State; and the same objection applies to other and similar boards. This condition of things results from no fault on the part of the officers, but from the system under which they are compelled to work. It is believed that the people of Michigan desire to pay fair and reasonable, but not extravagant salaries to their public officers, and the proposed constitution makes provision accordingly, and requires the Auditor General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Secretary of State, Commissioner of the Land Office, and Attorney General, each to reside, during the term of his office, at the seat of government, and personally superintend the duties of his office.
If the State in 1850, on a basis of population of 397,965, and of an equalized assessed valuation of property of $28,999,202, could afford to pay the salaries fixed at that time, the State, in 1874, with a population of 1,184,638, and an equalized valuation of $630,000,000, can afford to pay the salaries now proposed. If the labor of doing the public business in 1850 was worth the compensation paid for it at that time, the labor of doing the public business in 1874 is certainly worth what it is proposed to pay for it, in view of the larger number of people to be served, the greater labor involved, and the greater responsibility. The following will explain the difference in the scale of salaries :
$1,000 $3,000 Circuit Judges.
1,500 2,500 State Treasurer
1,000 2,500 Auditor General.
1,000 2,500 Superintendent of Public Instruction.
1,000 2,000 Secretary of State....
800 2,000 Commissioner of Land Office.
800 2,000 Attorney General ..
But against the proposed increase of salaries there are certain
FINANCIAL AND ECONOMIC PROVISIONS.
In his message submitting the work of the Constitutional Commission to the Legislature, the Governor of the State has grouped together a number of sections, the economic provisions of which are as follows:
ART. X., Sec. 1. No county, city, township, or other municipal corporation, shall become a stockholder in, or make any loan or gift to, or lend its credit in aid of any person, private corporation or association ; nor shall any county, city, township or other municipality construct or become the owner of any railroad. ART. X., SEC. 2.
The power of counties to levy taxes, borrow money and contract debts, shall be restricted by law.
ART. X., Sec. 15. No city or village shall incur indebtedness, including that incurred by or on behalf of any school district within its corporate limits, so that its aggregate debt at any time shall exceed ten per cent on the valuation of its taxable property, as shown by the assessment roll, unless authorized by a majority of the electors residing within such corporation voting thereon as may be prescribed by law.
ART. XIV., Sec. 4. Every law hereafter enacted by the Legislature, creating a debt or authorizing a loan, shall provide a sinking fund for the payment of the same.
ART. XIV., SEC. 9. The State shall not aid, by gift, or pledge of its credit, any person or corporation, nor shall it subscribe to, or become interested in, the stock of any corporation, nor assume any indebtedness of a municipal or other corporation. *
Commenting upon these wholesome provisions, the Exccutive says:
"These are golden words, and might well be engraved on stone sod placed in the walls of every capitol in the land. They say to us, “Keep out of debt if possible, but if you must make a debt, let it be for a legitimate purpose, restrict it to your ability to pay, and provide for its payment. While our State debt is decreasing annually, every year sees the bonded indebtedness of our cities and towns increase. The policy of issuing bonds for municipal and local purposes is unwise, expensive, and leads to public extravagance. The people of a municipality in voting for the issue of a thousand dollar ten per cent bond for twenty years, forget that the moment the bond is issued they have assumed an obligation of three thousand dollars. There is, of course, a class of county, city and township improvements that the future should perhaps help pay for. This, however, is amply provided for by permitting an indebtedness equaling ten per cent of the valuation. The adoption of the several provisions above enumerated in the organic law of the State will forever close the door against the schemes of selfish speculators in paper railroads and other wild financial plans. We shall be prudent in our public expenditures, out of debt and out of danger, and set an example, as a State, worthy of imitation by each citizen in his private business. Had the spirit of these provisions been the rule of action in the management of private and public affairs, we should not have witnessed such a panic as that which so recently swept over our
To the foregoing may properly be added another important provision, viz. :
ART. XVII., Sec. 3. Public officers, receiving or having charge of public moneys, are prohibited from using or employing the same in any manner for their private use or benefit, and whenever any public funds are loaned or deposited, the interest or other consideration received therefor shall be paid over to the general fund of the State, county, municipality, corporation or board to which such funds belong.
The State, counties and municipalities will thus secure and save to themselves all moneys received for interest on any of their funds. There will be savings by means of the restrictions placed upon municipalities in the matters of taxation and the incurring of indebtedness; savings in the cost of judicial proceedings by the reforms proposed in jury methods, by the limitations upon appeals in trivial cases, and by the increased efficiency of courts secured by means of better judges at better salaries ; savings by shortening the sessions of the Legislature, including costs of printing, by means of the prohibitions against local and special legislation and the granting of special charters. Although the pecuniary sav. ings that will be realized from these and other provisions are not capable of reduction to specific amounts, it is believed that the aggregate will reach half a million to a million dollars annually. As a consideration of economy merely, the limiting the number of commissioners of