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Michigan Taxpayers Alliance Updates: Democrats behaving...responsibly?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Democrats behaving...responsibly?

Political parties are coalitions of groups of voters and, for Michigan's Democratic Party, no part of their coalition is more sacred than unionized government employees. Democrats faithfully support any government pay or benefit increase - no matter what the cost to taxpayers - to prop up the golden goose that rewards them with rich campaign contributions.

So it's worth noting when an elected Democrat suddenly stands up to these government unions, looks them in the eye, and says, "Enough is enough!" Credit must be given to two such Democrats.

State Senator Mickey Switalski (D-Roseville) introduced legislation recently approved by the Senate requiring school districts to hold school board elections in August or November at the same time as other elections - saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Public school unions insist on May elections because so few voters participate that the unions can swamp the ballot and ensure that winning school board candidates put unions ahead of school kids.

Congrats to Democrat Senator Mickey Switalski for putting kids and taxpayers first. Disappointingly, Senator Switalksi did not get all of his reforms approved by the Senate. The full Republican controlled Senate stripped out portions of Switalski's bill that would have required tax and bond elections to also be on normal election days. In addition, Switalski offered amendments to cap the pay of school superintendents at levels below the governor's pay, and to cap school districts' administrative costs at 28% of their budget. Those amendments were defeated.

Why didn't the Republican Senate support all of Switalski's reform proposals? Hard to say. Keep in mind that the MI Education Association is one tough, smart union and they always make sure to financially support just enough Republicans to keep most reforms from becoming law.

Switalski's main bill now goes to the Democratic House where it faces an uncertain future.

Another Democrat brave enough to challenge government unions is State Rep. Tim Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe). Rep. Bledsoe courageously challenged his own Democrat Party in an April 16th Detroit Free Press editorial:

"...where is the center of gravity of the Michigan Democratic Party? Are we, as some allege, nothing more than the political arm of powerful public employee unions? Are we incapable of undertaking any meaningful reforms to make government less costly that are opposed by those unions?

Recently, a lobbyist for a major public employee union sent an e-mail to a colleague who had inquired about his organization's support for cost-saving reforms. "Forget reform," the lobbyist responded. "Just raise taxes."

Here is the conundrum: We are at the point in Michigan where public employees, and particularly teachers, earn more than the average private-sector worker, work a shorter year (10 months in the case of teachers), and enjoy superior health care benefits. Most retain a cherished defined-benefit retirement system.

Should we raise taxes on those who, on average, have less (and have suffered a greater financial demise) to sustain the privileges of those who have more? Is this what it means to be a Democrat?...”

Rep. Bledsoe is asking his Democratic colleagues questions that must be answered.

With new studies showing that the unfunded liability for public school teacher pensions is now approaching $930 billion nationally, more and more independent voters and even traditional liberals are asking when enough is enough.

Stephen Henderson is a columnist and editorial page editor for the liberal Detroit Free Press. Yet he wrote in his April 18 Sunday column about the incredibly generous health care benefits that public school teachers receive at the expense of taxpayers and children:

"...it's hard to find justification for the fact that so many teachers are paying no health premiums -- especially if their great deal comes at the expense of our children...

...But if teachers there were required to pay 5% or 10% of their health premiums, it wouldn't affect a single kid.

No doubt, this is a time for sacrifice in Michigan. But our challenge is to make those sacrifices while preserving investments in our future. That means kids and education. They're the key to making this state thrive again in 10 or 20 years....

...But the MEA has a chance to be a little magnanimous here, to show some leadership in the vein of sacrifice. Instead of standing by watching school districts gut critical services to kids, why not offer at least to soften the blow by accepting more realistic health plans? In most districts, even a 5% or 10% contribution from teachers (still well below what private-sector folks are used to) could make a big difference..."

When some elected Democrats and liberal editorial boards are starting to support taxpayers and students instead of kneeling before government employee union overlords, we know that real reform is possible. Standing in the way are most of the Democratic Party and just enough Republicans that are on the take with government unions.

Pay attention, friends - election day isn't far away. Reward those lawmakers of either party who are standing up for you, your family, and for school children. And punish those politicians of ANY party that are standing in the way.

I'll keep you posted,

Leon Drolet
MI Taxpayers Alliance