The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 25, 2011

No checks, no balances – State Republicans OK financial manager bill

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican House and Senate have adopted a bill that allows the appointment of emergency financial managers for financially strapped cities and school districts, while giving that manager powers akin to what critics have called a dictatorship.

“The final passage of the emergency manager legislative package is not only a heavy blow to Michigan’s communities – these bills are an affront to the bedrock principle of a representative democracy that our nation was founded upon,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. “Michigan politicians have capitalized on our state’s budgetary woes in order to ram through legislation that rather than create jobs, takes away even more rights and resources from Michiganders and instead gives an unprecedented amount of power into those connected to the governor.”

The main bill package was approved March 15 by a 62-48 vote in the Republican-led House, and Snyder indicated he would sign it. The Senate had already adopted the bill.

The new law is intended to allow for the state’s earlier intervention into the affairs of financially troubled cities and school districts. It allows the manager to cancel contracts, including collective bargaining agreements, force consolidation of schools, townships, cities and counties and unilaterally remove local elected officials. Collectively bargained contracts could be canceled for up to five years.

“It’s not right that our Republican representatives are using this fiscal crisis as an excuse to pursue an agenda that would otherwise be unattainable,” Gaffney said. “It’s not right that Snyder’s administration will have the power to ‘reject, modify, or terminate any contracts’ entered into, with no checks or balances by the people living in a community or parents within a school district. All contracts for snow removal, road repair, even garbage collections could be thrown out.”

Snyder’s spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor “believes this was an important step forward and will be a key tool to help indicate and address fiscal problems earlier and more clearly in Michigan’s cities and schools with the hopes of avoiding the appointment of an emergency manager to begin with.”

The move by Snyder and Republican lawmakers has grabbed national attention, although not nearly on the scale as what has gone in Wisconsin. MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow earlier this month used seven minutes of airtime to criticize the emergency financial manager bill in Michigan.

Under a video of protesters chanting “kill the bill” in the Michigan Capitol Building, Maddow said, “Why are these people in Michigan so loud? Why are these people in Michigan so mad? It’s because Michigan Republicans are telling them they are about to lose their right to elect local government.

She added: “If you think Republican governors around the country are using fiscal crises as a pretext to do stuff they otherwise want to do, this is something I don’t thing I ever would have believed Republicans ever wanted to do.”

ronically, or perhaps not, some of the future financial woes in local communities that may necessitate the use of a financial manager will be caused by Snyder’s proposal of cutting millions of dollars in state aid to local communities, including a $564 million reduction in K-12 school aid.