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MI Organizers Have Enough Signatures to Put the Emergency Financial Manager Law on the Ballot

Over 200,000 signatures have been collected in Michigan by organizers looking to repeal the state’s “Emergency Financial Manager Law” (PA4) in November. The law, which critics say gives too much power to unelected officials, has drawn ire from those already seeing its sweeping effects. Appointed emergency managers have the authority to fire elected officials as well as end labor contracts, effectively undermining unions:

For some more background on the subject we turn to Mother Jones,

Michigan’s emergency-manager law is the centerpiece of the fiscal program enacted by state Republicans after they took over the Legislature and governor’s mansion in early 2011. The law’s supporters say it allows for a more efficient and nimble response to the budget crisis confronting local governments in the wake of the housing crash and near collapse of the auto industry. Critics are seeking to block and repeal what they call an illegal power grab meant to usurp local governments and break up public-sector unions.

“We haven’t seen anything this severe anywhere else in the country,” says Charles Monaco, a spokesman for the Progressive States Network, a New York-based advocacy group. “There’s been nothing in other states where a budget measure overturns the democratic vote.” Williams says emergency managers are able to enact draconian policies that would cost most city officials their jobs: “They couldn’t get elected if they tried.”

Benton Harbor, Ecorse, and Flint are also currently under emergency management. In Flint, the emergency manager has promised to restructure collective bargaining agreements with the city’s police and firefighters unions. Benton Harbor’s emergency manager banned elected officials from appearing at city meetings without his consent. Detroit, which is facing a more than $150 million budget shortfall, could be next: Mayor Dave Bing has proposed laying off 1,000 city workers and wrung concessions from public-sector unions in hopes of preventing Gov. Snyder from appointing an emergency manager.

The effects of the Emergency Manager Law have already been felt by Michigan residents, many of whom have taken to the streets demanding the peoples’ voice be heard on the issue. Some claim that the law violates the state’s constitution, a charge that is currently being stalled in the courts:

Emergency managers are operating in Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint, Pontiac and the Detroit and Highland Park public school systems. The city of Detroit is under a state financial review that could result in an emergency manager.

The petition drive is just one way opponents are trying to slow down or derail the emergency manager law.
An Ingham County judge has issued a temporary order barring the review team analyzing the city of Detroit’s finances from meeting unless it’s done in compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Act. Hearings in the case, which potentially could affect Highland Park and other entities with emergency managers or locations in the review process, are expected to resume this week.

Separately, the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice sued over the emergency manager law in June, saying it violated the state constitution. Snyder has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to fast-track the case so it isn’t hung up for years in the appeals process.

The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will review the case early.

Gathering the necessary 161,300 signatures to land PA4 on the November ballot has not stopped organizers from continuing their efforts to expose the Emergency Manager overreach. In an odd twist, the law represents a very “big government” policy that runs counters to the ideals of many of the law’s strongest backers on the Far Right. The misinformation campaign being waged to confuse the electorate has been funded by many of the usual sources.

Statistics supporting the effectiveness of the law are often brought to you by The Mackinac Center, an ALEC-affiliated “think tank” looking to implement the Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity vision of a corporate America:

The Mackinac Center claims that Michigan could save $5.7 billion annually if public employees’ benefits were comparable to those of private-sector workers. Public-employee unions say cuts to public-sector jobs have only worsened the state’s economic woes with foreclosures and intensified reliance on state aid programs in cities like Flint, where the jobless rate was 17.5 percent at the end of 2011. “It’s an acceleration of the downward spiral,” says Brit Satchwell, president of the Ann Arbor Education Association, a teachers’ union. “Our goal is [to] outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan,” wrote Mackinac’s legislative analyst in an email to a Republican state representative last summer. (The message was obtained by the liberal think tank Progress Michigan.)

The Mackinac Center is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a clearinghouse for pro-business state legislation. (Its model bills have been linked to Arizona’s anti-immigration law and Wisconsin and Ohio’s collective bargaining bans.) James Hohman, the center’s assistant director of fiscal policy, was one of 40 private-sector representatives at an ALEC conference in December 2010 where, according to minutes from the closed-door meeting, participants hammered out model legislation that would align public- and private-sector pay and restructure state pensions. (Jonathan Williams, ALEC’s tax and fiscal policy director, did not respond to requests for comment.)

Foundations affiliated with the Koch brothers have funded ALEC’s reports on state fiscal policy. The State Budget Reform Toolkit and Rich States, Poor States both echo elements of Michigan’s emergency-manager law, encouraging state legislators to target public employees and identify privatization opportunities. The most recent Toolkit report recommends that states create a “centralized, independent, decision-making body to manage privatization and government efficiency initiatives.” Michigan’s law grants far more sweeping powers to one appointee.

Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law provides a glimpse into the austerity-driven Right Wing utopia that is intimately linked to corporate money in politics, complete with its disregard for local law, laurels and labor. Luckily, organizers are having success on the ground, informing people of the role they may have in changing Michigan for the better by overturning this law come election day.


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