By John McKenna FCRH ’14
In the Midwest, there is a state, long dominated by Democrats and unions. This is a state that has seen public unions receive lavish benefits and pensions, while the state’s coffers have become barren. In 2010, a Republican governor and a new Republican legislature came in and promised to challenge Big Labor’s grip, and turn a multi-billion dollar deficit into a surplus, while helping cities regain control over their finances. This would include altering union contracts and demanding more input from public employees, which the unions despise, and naturally would revolt against.
Welcome to Michigan.
What’s that? You thought I was taking about Wisconsin? Well, Wisconsin has definitely been grabbing national headlines, but there is another battle in its neighbor to the east that could be just as nasty. Here in Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder has taken a tough stance in his bid to erase his state’s $2 billion deficit, and Big Labor and their Democrat allies don’t like it. Like Governor Walker in Wisconsin, Snyder went right after the public labor unions who wrung Michigan dry over the past decade, while the state succumbed to record unemployment, corruption, and hopelessness. His big legislative achievement was Public Act 4, which enables him to appoint emergency financial managers to take over local budgets that are in crisis, and restore them to sound fiscal footing. Similar to Act 10 in Wisconsin, this would give more power to cities and towns, so budgets can be better managed, and labor contracts can be negotiated with the fiscal restraints in mind. So far, 45 emergency managers have been prepared, and are in cities like Flint, Pontiac, Ecorce, and Benton Harbor, as well as the Detroit Public School system, which are now on the mend thanks to these emergency managers. Many of these emergency managers are private businessmen, who have experience making tough, money-saving decisions.
However, this is Michigan, a state that has long been dominated by Big Labor, and Big Labor is not going to back down without a fight. Just like in Wisconsin, the reaction has been swift and brutal, with unions and Democrats pulling together a petition to terminate Act 4 by ballot, which got 203,000 signatures but was blocked due to a filing error, which will be challenged in court. If this makes the November ballot, Act 4 would be immediately suspended, similar to SB5 in Ohio, a collective bargaining bill that was defeated at the ballot box last November before it could be implemented. This would be seen as a victory for Big Labor if they can successfully get the bill on the ballot and have it tossed. This would be a hollow victory, though, considering how massive layoffs became the norm for Ohio’s public workers after the bill failed.
While unions try to claim that this is just another scheme by Republicans across the nation to destroy labor needlessly, civil rights “activists”, if you can call them that anymore, like Jesse Jackson, are even going so far as to say that Act 4 is racist, considering how many of the cities under emergency management are almost half-African American. One minister even went so far as to say Rick Snyder is trying to put blacks “back on the plantation”. It’s just another page in the long list of attacks and smears that some on the left use to denigrate conservative reformers looking out for the citizens of the nation, especially when it brings in a mythical race war where it isn’t even relevant.
While Act 4 is an extreme piece of legislation, and one that is politically gutsy, Michigan is an extreme case. Ever since the 1970’s, Michigan has been in slow decline, mostly due to the decline of the auto industry. When GM went belly-up in 2009, Michigan’s unemployment rate climbed to 14.2%, the highest in the country. Governor Snyder also inherited a $2 billion deficit from his predecessor, progressive darling Jennifer Granholm, and cities like Detroit losing population, business, and money. Detroit has not gone under emergency management, instead choosing a path of self-managed fiscal austerity overseen by Lansing, which in exchange gave Detroit a $137 million bailout to keep it from going bankrupt. This doesn’t help the fact that Detroit has the highest taxes in the state, and is hobbled by $12 billion in debts and unpaid for obligations, mostly to labor (that’s 33 times the net worth of the city’s assets). This is the scenario facing many Michigan cities who have given Lansing control of their funds, but Detroit’s decline from a vibrant city to a near ghost town is the starkest, and the clearest example of how corrupt governments and massive debt can bring a civilization to its knees.
Act 4 isn’t even that extreme of a bill. It is a stronger version of Act 72, which was passed by a Democratic governor in 1990, allowing for the emergency management system to be formed. So it makes it even stranger that Democrats would go after it with such vigor, when it was a Democrat idea to begin with. It’s actually a good piece of legislation because it empowers localities to manage their funds independent of state help in the future, and helps them with contract negotiations that they wouldn’t have the strength to fight, given the advantages Big Labor has in Michigan. It’s another example of Midwestern politicians realizing that the decades of labor power have resulted in deficits and hard times for the taxpayers, as well as more evidence of courageous Republican governors risking their political capital to try and save their beloved states, especially in the declining Midwest.
So let us hope, for the sake of Michigan, for the sake of Wisconsin, for the sake of America, that these governors win their battles against the bullying and intimidation of Big Labor. The fate of millions of Americans lies in their success.