Other Horrendous Acts

Against the Current, No. 162, January/February 2013

Dianne Feeley

PASSAGE OF THE right-to-work-for-less bill is only one of several horrendous laws the Michigan legislature has enacted in the final days of its session.

The legislature had to find a way to overcome the November referendum’s thumbs down of the Emergency Manager legislation. Public Act 4, which had been passed by the legislature and signed by governor Snyder last March, allowed the state to take over school districts, as well as cities and towns under financial distress, at the Governor’s determination. Once installed, the EM could redraw districts, tear up union contracts, sell off assets and outsource work. It went down to defeat as Proposal 1 in November.

While the rise in foreclosures, decline in property taxes, reduction of revenue sharing at the state level and the decline in federal allocations to cities and counties put all but 64 out of 230 municipalities in a financial corner, the state government blamed them for failure to balance their budgets. In fact, the Governor has appointed managers almost exclusively in predominantly Black cities.

State officials, pretending to “hear” the criticism of Public Act 4 as anti-democratic, fashioned a similar bill — but one that offers elected officials four “choices.” Their basket of options includes a “structured settlement” with creditors, appointment of an Emergency Manager, a consent agreement with oversight from a Financial Advisory Board or bankruptcy. In other words, the new law, PA 76, allows local officials to choose which form of death they prefer. What it doesn’t do is increase the proportion of state revenue sharing sent back to municipalities.

Another set of bills is aimed at women’s health care. These include:

• Allowing physicians and other health care providers to refuse services to patients when there is a “moral” objection. Employers can also refuse to pay for particular health services under the same rubric. Of course this is aimed squarely at women’s reproductive issues, including birth control and abortion.

• Requiring women seeking private medical insurance to purchase optional insurance coverage for abortion.

• Adding so many additional, unnecessary and harassing “regulations” on women’s health centers that they may be forced to close.

• Outlawing “telemedicine” and the emergency contraception known as Ella. This targets women in the state’s rural areas. (Currently 21 of the state’s 83 counties lack an OB/GYN provider.) Snyder’s signature on the anti-choice bills was pending at press time.

The legislature also managed to pass, and the Governor is expected to sign, a bill that allows Olympia Entertainment — owned by billionaire Michael Ilitch, who also owns the Red Wings — the right to apply for Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority school property tax money, a pot of almost $13 million annually. The Olympia Entertainment spokesperson did not reveal the location of the multipurpose arena and explained the firm doesn’t yet have architectural plans to present.

The session ended as the Senate voted on making it more difficult to recall elected officials (reducing the number of days in which signatures could be gathered by one-third and limiting the number of recall attempts to one per term) and sent the bill on to the House. It was touted as allowing politicians “to vote their consciences” without having to worry about being recalled!

On the final evening the House approved and sent to the Senate a massive package to phase out personal property tax on commercial and industrial equipment. This would eliminate an annual $600 million in corporate property taxes on which many local governments depend, threatening to push already struggling municipalities into insolvency. It also passed and sent to the Senate legislation allowing those with concealed weapon permits to carry them in churches, schools, day care centers and stadiums. Snyder vetoed the concealed weapons bill following the Newtown massacre.

Left hanging was legislation that codifies the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), a completely untested experiment between the Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Manager, Roy Roberts, and the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents. The bill sets up a governor-appointed EAA board with a chancellor similarly appointed for the 5% lowest testing Michigan schools — although so far only 15 Detroit schools have been put into the EAA. Clearly these schools will be almost completely shielded from local public scrutiny.

Working people in Michigan, just as in other Rust Belt states, are under severe attack on all sides.

January/February 2013, ATC 162