Anyone who thinks voters are in no mood to endorse investment in stocks right now ought to look at the huge support a state ballot proposal on investing some state trust funds received in Michigan.
In all, 62% of the voters on Aug. 6 approved ending restrictions that had consigned some $600 million in state conservation funds to low-return, low-risk fixed-income securities. Balloting was conducted amid a distressing environment of sensational revelations of corporate fraud, accounting scandals and alleged investment banking dishonesty - as well as a plummeting market that undoubtedly has cost a vast number of these same voters millions of dollars collectively in personal and pension fund losses.
Voters approved giving the state department of treasury the flexibility to invest these funds in a wide array of investments, including equities, as it does for the state's $45 billion in pension assets.
One might dare say the vote could signal a public desire to continue with efforts to partially privatize Social Security, or at least continue the debate, now regarded by many in Washington as finished because of the debacle in the stock market.
In Michigan, voters took the long-term view.
"We're grateful that the voters took the time to understand such a complex issue," said Dennis Fox, environmental policy specialist with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, on the group's website.
A broad coalition of leading environmental, civic and business groups in the state, comprising both political parties, supported the ballot proposal. They included Detroit City Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan chapter of The Nature Conservancy and Michigan United Conservation Clubs. The Detroit City Council in July unanimously passed a resolution in support of the proposal. No organized group opposed the measure, according to reports.
Supporters of the proposal conceded that the amendment would subject the investments to more risk, with some estimating potential losses of at least $15 million a year, but they argued that the wide latitude on investing could enable the funds to get a much better return in the long term.
"Some called the vote the most important environmental issue to hit the state's ballot in 50 years" because of the additional money the new investments could earn for conservation programs, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs noted on its website,
Just as important, the vote may be one of the biggest endorsements by the public for stock market investing in the past year.