2016, Michigan Republicans — December 2, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Lame duck is underway in Michigan and it’s going to be a VERY rough ride for progressive values


It was just a few weeks ago that I was thinking, “Well, since Republicans control EVERY aspect of our state government now, at least lame duck should be quieter than usual.”

That, of course, was delusional thinking and Republicans are making that very clear as we begin the 2016 lame duck – or, as I like to call it, “inflamed duck” – session.

First, we have the voter suppression effort that I wrote about on Wednesday. This legislation does away with the option to sign an affidavit in lieu of showing a photo ID when voting. If this package of legislation – House Bills 6066, 6067, and 6068 – becomes law, anyone without a photo ID will be required to go to their local clerk’s office within 10 days of the election to prove they are who they say they are. As the Detroit Free Press points out, this would effect thousands and thousands of voters:

Currently, a voter who forgets their identification has to sign an affidavit that they are who they say they are. But if they show up on voting lists at their precincts, their votes are counted that day. For the Nov. 8 election, the Secretary of State’s Office reported that 18,339 people showed up at the precincts who were listed on the voting rolls, but had no photo identification. They signed affidavits and were allowed to have their vote counted on Election Day. In 2012, 12,093 people showed up without photo identification.

The new law would add the wrinkle of having to provide photo ID to clerks within 10 days, or face the prospect that their vote, ultimately, would not be counted.

Given the virtual non-existence of voter fraud, this is a solution in search of a problem. In fact, it’s a bald-faced voter suppression effort and nothing more. It’s also a way to help Republican Lisa Lyons’ when she runs for Michigan Secretary of State in a few years. She’s term-limited now and was just elected Kent County Clerk. She’s widely expected to run for Secretary of State in a few years and is trying to make her mark now. People I have spoken with believe she’s pushing this voter suppression legislation now as a way to get leverage to have her all but useless “No-Excuse Absentee Voting” bill passed, legislation she has been trying unsuccessfully to get through the legislature for some time. That legislation would allow people to vote absentee without an excuse as is currently required. However, they would still have to vote in-person making it a half-step toward expanding voting access at best.

It appears Lyons is courting hardline Republicans who are eager to make voting HARDER, not easier, into supporting her absentee voting legislation in exchange for introducing this more egregious voter suppression bill. If it becomes law, she can than use her tepid “expansion of absentee voting” in her campaign for Secretary of State, counting on the fact that 85-90% of voters don’t give a damn about having to show a picture ID to vote since for them it’s a non-issue. So Lyons used her position as Chair of the House Elections Committee to (a) introduce the legislation on Tuesday, (b) hold a single, unscheduled hearing to take testimony on Wednesday, and (c) hold a second unscheduled Elections Committee meeting on Thursday to pass the legislation and send it to the full House to be voted on as early as next week.

Another package of bills – House Bills 1153, 1154, and 1155 – are somewhat surprisingly getting bipartisan support. They passed the Senate this week and now head to the House for a vote. These bills allow up to 15 corporations to withhold 1-100% of employees’ state taxes and put them into their own bank accounts as incentive to create jobs. This, of course, is on top of the massive tax breaks already offered to corporations when Republicans assumed control in 2010.

The program is designed so that no more than 15 agreements can be signed at any one time, accounting for no more than $250 million in forgone revenue. [Michigan Economic Development Corp CEO Steve] Arwood said, as a simplified way of illustrating the aggregate nature of the cap, that if one 10-year agreement allowed an employer to keep $25 million a year in employee withholding tax for 10 years, that agreement in itself would cap the program until that agreement expired, Arwood said.

But the bill is unclear on that, and the Senate Fiscal Agency analysis on the bill package says it would reduce general fund and School Aid Fund revenue by a maximum of $250 million per year, with $190.5 million lost to the general fund and $59.5 million lost to the School Aid Fund.

David Zin, chief economist at the Senate Fiscal Agency, said the agency interpreted the bill to reference a $250-million annual cap, but the language is ambiguous. He also pointed out that if all the agreements were one year in duration and totaled $250 million, there could be an annual revenue impact of $250 million, even under Arwood’s interpretation.

While I do understand the desire to use tax policy to incentive job creation, the optics of having corporations collect state taxes and simply keep them instead of turning them over to the state are horrendous. Also, and even more offensive, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency’s analysis, the bill will decrease state revenues by up to a quarter billion dollars a year with $59.5 million a year coming from the School Aid Fund. In other words, funding for education is once again being cut to pay for corporate tax breaks.

Next up: More attacks on workers. There are two efforts underway to go after workers. First, we have legislation that will deal a heavy blow to teachers who have been a Republican punching bag for years now. Senate Bill 102 eliminate the MPSERS retirement program for new teachers hired after May of 2017, forcing them into 401(k) style plans which are subject to the whims of the stock market. The move is actually expected to cost the state over a billion and half dollars in the beginning but that doesn’t seem to bother the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Phil Pavlov, the notorious father of Michigan’s anti-democratic Emergency Manager law:

The sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, did not dispute that the upfront cost could be $1.6 billion over five years, with about $214 million expected to be borne by school districts and the balance borne by the state. […]

Total costs, including expected impacts on other pension plans, could total $1.6 billion to $3.8 billion over five years, the [Senate Fiscal Agency] report said.

Also, after having avoided being impacted by the imposition of right to work in Michigan, firefighters and police officers about to have their chance to be screwed by Michigan Republicans:

Republican lawmakers are colliding head-on with Michigan’s most powerful public-sector unions after abruptly introducing bills during  the lame-duck Michigan Legislature session aimed at curbing billions of dollars in unfunded post-retirement health care promised to police officers, firefighters and other local government workers.

The legislation, which opponents fear is on a fast track for passage, would end post-retirement health care for new local government workers and generally force existing workers and retirees to pay 20% of their post-retirement health care costs.

Michigan’s police and firefighter unions are powerful enough that GOP lawmakers opted to exempt them when they and Gov. Rick Snyder rammed through right-to-work legislation that enraged other Michigan unions late in 2012.

This is a stark reminder that solidarity with ALL workers is important for ALL of us. Because what’s being done to others today may be coming to your doorstep tomorrow.

By the way, this package of legislation proves that Michigan Republicans are working overtime to ensure that workers aren’t getting fairly treated at the local level, either:

Retiree health care would get more expensive for employees of cities, villages, townships and counties under a package of 12 bills introduced Wednesday by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

The bills would require municipalities who offer retiree health care and whose funds for those costs are less than 80% funded to make the public employees pick up at least 20% of the cost of their retiree health care.

The package would cover current retirees and existing employees even if the benefits were negotiated under a union contract and would cut off nearly all retiree health care for new employees hired after April 2017. After that time, local units of government could kick in up to 2% of an employee’s base pay into a health savings account that the employee could use to cover future retiree health care costs.

Republicans are famous for touting the importance of local control right up until it collides with their anti-labor dogma. And, by the way, they are working in other ways to limit local decision-making, as well. A final bill into today’s round-up is Exhibit A for that:

The Michigan House of Representatives gave final passage Thursday to a bill that would prohibit local communities from banning or imposing fees on plastic bags in their community.

Supporters said it’s a common-sense law that will provide continuity for retailers with businesses in multiple communities.

But state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, said communities like his take pride in keeping their streets clean and inviting.

“This is a bill that attacks local control,” he said. “Many of you in your communities aren’t considering this, but in Ann Arbor, we are. And that causes the state Legislature to become very reactionary in an attempt to subvert one city’s interests in making their city more beautiful.”

That’s it for today. Be sure to contact your state legislators on these issues and urge them to do the right thing. Even if your legislator is someone you’re sure won’t be supportive, they STILL need to hear from you. Because you can be damn sure they’re hearing from people who support their regressive positions. You can find your Senator HERE and your Representative HERE.