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Wednesday, August 15,2012

Powerless people, special interest proposals

by Kyle Melinn

When our state Constitution’s authors drew up the amendment process, did they ever envision the high-stakes special interest bonanza we’re facing today?

Instead of well-meaning initiatives addressing issues unforeseen in 1963, we’re getting self-serving policies carefully packaged by professional handlers bought and paid for God Knows Whom?

It’s hard to believe they did.

This November we’re getting potentially six constitutional amendments and one referendum because a few deep-pocketed entities see money to be made or, in the case of organized labor, higher membership numbers to be gotten.

Every single ballot proposal boils down to one special interest attempting to extract a victory it couldn’t get out of the Legislature. Meanwhile, arguably the state’s most pressing issues like road funding or K-12 education funding are passed over for another day.

Recent campaign finance statements show some entities are more transparent about it than others. Some have created pleasant-sounding secret groups like “Jobs First” or “Home Care First” to screen their money. Others are upfront.

Either way, the powerless people can expect to be forced-fed telecasted talking points in a contest over who can throw together the most digestible mish-mash.

Example A is this so-called “Jobs First” idea to give Michigan exactly what everybody’s been asking for — eight new casinos on top of the 25 casinos we already have.

Jobs First LLC, a faceless entity created late last year by attorneys Michael Hodge and Willard Holt III, found $2.5 million in petition-signature collection money to put this idea in front of us.

Will Jobs First publicly release its books so we know whose money is being speculated? Don’t count on it. We do know a few existing casinos — Greektown, Four Winds, MGM, Firekeepers, Motor City — are already spending money to protect their collective investments.

Another say-nothing group, Home Care Inc., is working out of the East Lansing address of Disability Services, which I doubt has $1.84 million lying around. Yet, that’s what was spent to collect signatures for a proposal giving collective bargaining powers to home care workers who watch over Medicaid patients.

It’s hard to find the SEIU’s fingerprints on much of their literature, but it’s the only one with money out of the bunch pushing for this one.

Just about every other organized labor group — AFL-CIO, UAW, AFSCME, MEA, Teamsters, IBEW, the Nurses, AFT, the Laborers — has skin in the “Protect Our Jobs” ballot proposal, which rolls back just about every limitation to collective bargaining ever passed.

It’s been fought by, predictably, business groups. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Small Business Association of Michigan, among others, have already spent membership money as part of “Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution.”

AFSCME has its own special issue with Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican legislators. It’s the new emergency manager law that allows appointed municipal bailout experts to revoke union contracts in broke cities like Pontiac or school districts like Benton Harbor.

While there are plenty of Detroit groups and well-meaning liberals against the emergency manager law, a look at the campaign finance statement shows only one entity giving money to the effort: the state and local government employee union. 

Meanwhile, a California 501(c)4 called Green Tech Action is working with the New York-based environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council to juice up the percentage of energy Michigan must get from renewable sources by 2025 to 25 percent.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters and the Blue Green Alliance are kicking into the effort, too, but the amount of in-state money invested in this one is less than 25 percent.

Consumers Energy and DTE don’t like the mandate, which is why they’re spending a combined $6 million on the “Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition.”

The Detroit International Bridge Co. is the only entity on the globe that believes enough in the people’s right to say something about Snyder’s proposed bridge to Canada to put money behind it. It’s spent $4.6 million so far and more is coming.

DIBC Vice President Matthew Moroun appears to have been so interested in getting the support of Tea Party people on this one, his side company is bankrolling an über-conservative’s wet dream — a two-thirds legislative requirement for any future tax increases.

Just about any entity that relies on the state General Fund for its existence is saying “no” to this one — the employee unions, the hospitals, the teacher unions, local governments and the corrections workers.

Does the average person get a better government out of any of these proposals? If you’re affiliated with any of the aforementioned groups, sure.

But most people are not, which means we’re being forced to take a side in somebody else’s special interest.

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