The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 26, 2007

It's (union-backed) Granholm vs. (business-backed) DeVos on Nov. 7

By The Building Tradesman



LANSING - Michigan Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her challenger, Republican Richard DeVos live in the same state, but are a world away from each other when it comes to issues of importance to Michigan's working people.

Michigan's voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7 and decide who they want to lead the state for the next four years. Following are some positions the candidates have taken on various issues of importance to workers, as well as actions they have taken while leading the state (Granholm) or leading a business in the private sector (DeVos).

One of the most drastic steps any candidate could take against organized labor would be to make Michigan a right-to-work state - where workers in companies are given the choice of whether they want to pay union dues - even though they would still enjoy the benefits of the union contract.

Granholm - She has pledged to be organized labor's "backstop" against anti-union legislation in a legislature dominated by Republicans. Legislation to make Michigan a right-to-work state is introduced every year by one GOP lawmaker or another.

DeVos - Has said that he would not support a right-to-work law in Michigan, although there was some nuance to his response when asked about his stance in a Sept. 28 radio interview. "I would not lead an effort and I don't believe that that discussion and effort are going to be helpful in this state…" DeVos said. "We don't need to go there and I won't take us there."

However, A Detroit News article earlier this year said Richard's wife, Betsy DeVos, herself the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party, "struck a raw nerve a couple of times when she said the state's economic woes stemmed from workers earning too much. She suggested Michigan would be better off as a right-to-work state, which means labor unions could not compel workers to join. Dick DeVos has distanced himself from those statements, and says he will not back right-to-work legislation."

One of the most important laws that uphold the wages of Michigan's construction workers is the Prevailing Wage Act of 1965. Repeal of the law would be devastating to the incomes of Michigan's construction workers.

Granholm - See the "backstop" reference above. Every year, a Republican lawmaker in Lansing introduces a measure to repeal the state's prevailing wage law, but everyone knows it would receive a certain veto from Granholm.

Granholm has also increased enforcement of the state's prevailing wage law. At the end of July, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth reported that prevailing wage complaint completions were up 37% over the previous fiscal year, and there was a 189% increase in monies collected for workers - $117, 953.

DeVos: Has apparently not taken a public position on prevailing wage. But follow the money and ideology trail from DeVos to the conservative think-tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy, where he was a former board member and monetary sponsor.

"It is time to repeal the wasteful prevailing wage law," said a Mackinac Center researcher in 2000, one of several papers in the same vein released by the think-tank.

The candidates' education policies…

Granholm: While the state has made cuts in the last four years to deal with $4 billion in budget shortfalls, Granholm increased the state's funding for K-12 public education to record levels. (Michigan.gov).

DeVos: He said during a debate, "the people of Michigan will not see a stronger advocate for public education than me." However, he was the main financial backer and chair of a failed 2000 anti-public school voucher ballot initiative that would cut funding for public education. While on the State Board of Education, DeVos advocated giving public education resources to private corporations. He personally financed the Education Freedom Fund, an organization of school voucher advocates. (Booth Newspapers, Center for Media and Democracy, AP).

On jobs creation:

Granholm: Michigan has lost 340,000 jobs since statewide employment peaked in 2000. Michigan's jobless rate is second worst in the nation.

In his latest assessment of Michigan's economy, Comerica Bank chief economist Dana Johnson said the state's job situation is bad out there, but not "bleak." He wrote in August that the auto manufacturing sector, "which now only accounts for about 5 percent of Michigan's jobs, will be directly responsible for about 75 percent of the job losses this year, and indirectly responsible for the rest."

"That means that the economic climate in Michigan will improve dramatically as soon as the local car companies are able to stabilize their market share," Johnson said. (M-Live, Oct. 1, 2006).

Granholm has touted her $3.8 billion "Jobs Today Initiative" which has accelerated 10 years of road and bridge construction work and pollution clean-up projects that have been a major boon to the building trades.

DeVos: The Republican challenger stands on his record as CEO of Amway. Between 1998 and 2000, he laid off nearly 1,400 Michigan workers. Three years later, his company invested an additional $120 million in its operations in China, bringing DeVos' company's investment there to $220 million. (Detroit Free Press, Grand Rapids Business Journal)

Beyond that, the hairs start to get split. Democrats point fingers at DeVos for moving jobs to China. DeVos claims the products built by the plant in China stay in China, and that no Michigan jobs were lost as a result.

DeVos pins turning around Michigan's job situation on cutting taxes and improving education. He says cutting taxes will make Michigan a more attractive place to do business. His primary target is elimination of the state Single Business Tax, which funds about $1.9 billion - nearly a quarter of the entire state general fund operating budget.

State Republicans led the drive to push up the elimination of the state Single Business Tax at the end of 2007 - without a plan to replace the business taxes which make up 23 percent of the state's general fund operating budget. The complicated SBT is unpopular with some businesses, but several studies have shown that Michigan's business tax rate is about average compared to other states.

As we reported in our last issue, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce floated a trial balloon that called for elimination of the prevailing wage, increased co-pays for Medicare participants and preventing local governments from approving living wage ordinances as a way to save the state government money when it comes time replace the SBT.

Granholm: Would support elimination of the SBT as long as the replacement tax scheme fully funds the missing tax revenue and doesn't place more of a burden on individual taxpayers.

DeVos: Has consistently refused to tell voters how the SBT would be replaced, although he has said that he doesn't believe that the entire $1.9 billion has to be made up with a new tax.


GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM addresses an audience at Plumbers Local 98 in Madison Heights. Granholm has been endorsed for Michigan governor by the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.