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Wednesday, May 26,2010

Public employees taking their lumps

by Kyle Melinn
That "thump" "thump" you heard last week was the bus rolling over the state’s major teachers’ unions.

The Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers walked away from the Capitol with treadmarks on their back again, having suffered another loss to a cash-starved state government.


It’s the same ol’ song. State government, the city of Lansing, school districts. Public officials have no money. The public doesn’t want or have money to give, so money is being taken off the employees’ hides.


Last week it was public school employee unions who got a less-than-lucrative early retirement plan. Next week state government employees could be staring down the barrel of the same half-carrot, half-stick scheme . . . and that’s only if the House Speaker Andy Dillon sees enough hair on the scalp to bring out the knife.


Not even Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, could save the unions this goaround. Meadows was the state House’s lead negotiator in the public school employee retirement deal and he fought hammer and tong to get something the MEA and AFT could sign off on.


But when he took negotiations as far as he could take them, Dillon cut a deal over Meadows’ head and passed a deal that neither Meadows nor most of the Democratic caucus supported. And the Democrats are supposed to be in majority in the House, remember.


The school unions dropped to their knees and prayed for the House and Senate to abandon plans to make teachers fork over 3 percent more of their salaries to their benefits packages.


They didn’t want new public school employees to be thrown into a 401(k)-like retirement system as opposed to the pension they’d received for years.


If the state was going to insist on an "early out" for state teachers, they wanted it incentive-based. Lure eligible retirees to pasture by jacking up the percentage used to factor a pension check from 1.5 to 1.75, the unions said.


They got none of it. And they’re not get ting much else off their birthday list either, now or anytime soon. In fact, the lot for public school employees and all public employees — state or local — is going to get worse before it gets any better. Furloughs, layoffs, less attractive health benefits. Pick your poison.


The MEA held a lightly attended rally at the Capitol on Monday. They’re planning a bigger one for June, too. They’re mad. They’re firing off chants and waving signs and pumping fists and all the rest.


Nobody else cares. Check that, a few other people care. Their spouses care. Maybe a few parents. Other than that, the rest of Main Street Michigan is just thanking the dear Lord that they have a job. Main Street isn’t shedding tears because a group of public employees didn’t get sweetly lulled into using their pensions early. Pensions! What other job on Earth comes with a pension these days?


What other jobs on Earth are there, for that matter?


The Department of Human Services reported Monday that suburbs like Okemos are reporting the biggest jump in cash assistance, food stamps and Medicaid cases. Unless the federal government extends unemployment benefits one more time, 530,000 out-of-work Michiganders will watch their unemployment benefits run out, putting even more stress on the welfare system.


The drumbeat for higher taxes faded a long time ago. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce can’t even get its friends in the Republican caucus to move a couple-penny gas tax to make sure Michigan doesn’t lose $2 billion in federal money over the next five years.


Sales tax expansion to services? Dead. Income tax hike? Received two votes in the Senate last year. Every day it seems another Democrat in the Legislature is writing off higher taxes as a possible solution to fix the budget.


And there’s no hope on the horizon, either. None of the major-party gubernatorial candidates are talking about raising taxes. Not one. Republican or Democrat. The Republicans will make gains in the Legislature next year. Are you counting on the new generation of Tea Party whackos to pitch higher taxes?


The era of federal bailouts is over. It’s been a nice ride.


If public employees don’t want the bull’s eye on their back again next year, they’d be better off cutting the best deal they can with 65 Democrats in House and a Democratic governor and being agreeable with it. Maybe they can take the focus off them when the next leaders come in looking for more stuff to cut.


Treading water, desperately trying to hold on to the status quo, is going to result in one more loss after another.




Where are all the ballot proposals?


Don’t look now but for the first time since 1966, Michigan voters could only have one ballot question to answer on the November ballot — and that one is constitutionally mandated.


Proposal 1 of 2010 will ask voters if Michigan should ditch its state Constitution and call a bunch of delegates to the Lansing Center next May to write a new one. Most folks around town are leaning "no," just because they don’t want the hassle. We’ve got too many other fish to fry in state government. Cracking open the Constitution for the first time in 40 years would be a needless pain.


Otherwise, all of the other fire for reforms is fizzling out. The Tea Party folks may pull together an effort to ask voters to "opt out" of the federal health care reform package signed into law this year. I’d put the odds of success at about 25 percent.


Horse racetracks wanted to put on the ballot expanded gambling at their establishments. The odds of a) getting it on the ballot and b) passing are about 10 and 5 percent, respectively.


A final effort to regulator uranium mining has already been shelved until 2012. And with early July being the deadline to get signatures for these efforts, the window for anything no popping up is slowing closing.


(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at melinn@ lansingcitypulse.com)

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