Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Michigan Firefighters Under Attack

FLINT FIREFIGHTERS JUST CAN’T CATCH A BREAK

One could say the name Flint, Michigan is apt when it comes to sparking fires — real and political. The city has suffered a rash of troubling arsons over the past few yeFlint Michigan arsonars, some of which have been partially resolved with the arrest and plea deal of a gang of arsonists responsible for up to 100 fires. The city’s east side alone suffered a whopping 145 intentionally set blazes in 2010, accounting for 30 percent of Flint’s 486 known arsons that year.

Indeed, Flint is a city on fire, and under siege….

The fiscally challenged municipality is under assault from the State of Michigan when it assigned an Emergency Manager to run its government — usurping elected leaders, thereby suspending democratic rule and rendering elections meaningless. Under emergency management the city has suffered terribly through brutal cut-back management practices that have decimated public sector services.

Already the most violent city in the nation, Flint also takes the honor of being the arson capitol of the country according to the FBI — with its record number of self-immolations earning it that dubious title. The firefighting costs there are astronomical. Businesses are frantically attempting to protect themselves through enhanced alarm systems.

Private security firms refuse to pay-up for false alarms

Privately-owned security  companies frequently act as the conduit for public protection of a business community — be it fire or police response, they expedite the automated 911 request. Skittish Flint businesses are arming themselves with hair-trigger alarms through these private contractors, whose state-of-the-art systems are generating numerous and costly false alarms. In the last five months of 2012, the city responded to hundreds of false alarms, resulting in 1600 invoices for a $134,000 total, at $79 per response — expenses the beleaguered city cannot bear, yet they are not being reimbursed by the business community.

Traditionally, individual businesses are directly billed by the city for a false call, but Flint opted to run the billing liability through the security companies themselves — a controversial move. Those corporations should have contracts that pass along false alarm fees to the contracting company, where applicable. But it seems, few of them wish to tack-on the cost of false alarms to client invoices. They’re counting on the problem just going away — and are simply not paying what’s owed the city.

As if the lack of support among the business community wasn’t enough, Flint firefighters are also under political attack.

Mackinac Center doesn’t want firefighters to receive incentives to live in Flint city limits

The Flint housing market has been hammered by an economic downturn for flint michigan real estatemany decades prior to the national economic bubble collapse. Many neighborhoods are largely empty, and vacant homes invite crime. The Genesee County Land Bank is responding by developing a program that would give a 30 percent discount on foreclosed homes to firefighters and police officers willing to move into the city. The homes have been rehabilitated through grants from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

This would raise occupancy and make the neighborhoods safer through the presence of police and firefighters. Fire response time is another attractive factor.

It’s a win-win. Who wouldn’t agree?

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is throwing water on the plan claiming that granting Flint firefighters and police officers a discount is “preferential treatment” that is not fair because private businesses can’t get in on the action for their employees. (Private businesses with a costly unpaid false alarm flint michigan firefightersaddiction). Mackinac Center goes on to outrageously claim that Flint and Detroit firefighters are already over-compensated and, here’s the kicker…they are placing direct blame for Flint’s fiscal crisis on the firefighters. Read their over-the-top screed here.

We certainly agree that public sector legacy costs are problematic for all municipalities during stressful economic times…BUT, to blame Flint firefighters for the problems of that city is beyond the height of hubris — it’s reprehensible.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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Pontiac Emergency Manager Gets Spanked in Court

images[1]Lou Schimmel, Emergency Manager of Pontiac Michigan just got spanked by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rae Lee Chabot for violating the Open Meetings Act when he cut the city’s pension board from 11 to 5 members. Chabot said Schimmel’s action “looks like a dictatorship” .

Schimmel claims that he was just trying to save the city money.

Sure.

Last March, Democracy Tree investigated some of the hypocrisies of the Schimmel administration, and found he had no trouble violating his own convictions regarding unfunded mandates and taking an exorbitant salary on Pontiac’s dime, in the form of an unfunded mandate.

Under the recently repealed PA-4, and now again under reinstated PA-72, Emergency Managers are paid through an unconstitutional mandate. When PA-436 takes effect on March 27, 2013, the salaries are to be covered out of a state fund. This change took the form of an appropriation to the new law — an appropriation which by the constitution, made the new law referendum-proof.

Here’s what was discovered last March (a sordid tale of bald-faced hypocrisy):

Unfunded mandates, the scourge of Michigan cities and schools for over three decades. The Legislative Commission on Statutory Mandates was empowered by Michigan lawmakers in 2007 to investigate this widespread unconstitutional practice. The Headlee Amendment  is unambiguous as to the illegal nature of the State enacting laws that place the funding burden on local units of government and school districts.

This committee produced a scathing report that rebuked Michigan lawmakers for blatant and repeated violations of the constitution — in 2009 alone they legislated over $2.2 billion in unfunded mandates. The blue ribbon panel was comprised of five respected experts, included among them was Lou Schimmel, of Municipal Financial Consultants, Inc. The group made very specific recommendations on how the state can avoid any future violations of Headlee. The panel advised creating a legislative oversight “special master” to enforce the provisions of the amendment and thereby protecting our cities and schools from unfunded mandates.

The conclusion was clear:  unfunded mandates were a major cause of fiscal stress on local units of government in the State of Michigan.

Fast forward to early 2011 when Public Act-4, The Emergency Manager Bill, was signed into law by Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder — that’s when a joke of sorts started making the rounds. At that time it became widely known that the training program for Emergency Managers (EMs) was a short 12 hour course, a day and a half, with lunch, that cost only $175.00. The law requires an EM to possess a paltry five years of unspecified “business” experience to run a city or school district and earn a generous salary of up to $250,000 plus benies. (This begs the question: Does that mean the guy with all the facial piercings at the Taco Bell drive-up qualifies? He’s been there quite a while.)  But, that’s not the “joke”.  No, it was what everyone said upon learning those facts: “I want that job!”  Who can blame them, it does sound like a pretty sweet gig.

At about the same time that Schimmel was decrying the horrors of those unconstitutional unfunded mandates, he also became the Director of Municipal Finance at The Mackinac Center for Public Policy. While in that position he conducted a fiscal analysis of the City of Pontiac in which he advocated for the privatization of much of their services as a solution to their financial woes, much of which were directly caused by the burden of unfunded mandates. Then in early 2011, through his position at the Mackinac Center, Schimmel started lobbying newly inaugurated Governor Snyder for strengthening the powers of the old Emergency Financial Managers found under Public Act 72 of 1990. Schimmel called for a “far more powerful”  EM — he wanted to see local dictators in Michigan cities, especially Pontiac.

Nine months later, Lou Schimmel was coronated as the all-powerful dictator of the City of Pontiac, with a salary of $150,000, plus benefits and full staff — all paid for through an unfunded mandate. Public Act-4 was very specific in its demand that all costs are to be the burden of the unit of government being seized — the law unabashedly violated Michigan’s constitution. Michigan’s legislature had become so cavalier about its addiction to unfunded mandates that they actually put it in writing that time. Most of these mandates are passive, in that the laws demand compliance without specifying the source of funding, leaving the cost burden on cities and schools who try to squeeze it out of their shrinking budgets, while ballooning their deficits.

Emergency Manager salaries currently range between $132,000 and $225,000. The typical defense for the high salary, compared to that of the elected officials they replace, is the demanding nature of the job. In fact, some of these EMs have cried foul about public criticism of their compensation claiming they are taking a pay cut because they could earn much more in the private sector. They paint themselves as making a great personal sacrifice to do their civic duty by “helping” these struggling municipalities.

Again, sure.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

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What I learned from the ALEC 2012 Spring Task Force Summit

editor’s note:  This is a fascinating article, a first person account by a conservative ALEC member from New Hampshire.  As a conservative, he was involved in the meetings, as opposed to the way ALEC has treated Marc Pocan–keep him away from everything.

This is a very significant article for the information and insights into conservative thought and the worldview that it shows.  There are also some previously unseen ALEC Model Legislation found in the links of Mancuse’s article, which will be published separately of this narrative. I thought of excerpting this “diary”, but found it too interesting to cut.

Having grown up in New England and having a number of good friends living in New Hampshire,  I need to yell: 
                                LOOK OUT NEW HAMPSHIRE!!!
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What I learned from the ALEC 2012 Spring Task Force Summit: My trip to the ALEC Conference in Charlotte, N.C., Part II

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—As a freshman attendant at the American Legislative Exchange Council Spring 2012 summit, I was assigned to the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force, which More →

Michigan Public Sector Unions — Live Long and Prosper, ALEC…not so much…

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy (ALEC’s cloaked Michigan contingent) has activated a top officer — Lt. Jack McHugh, 1970’s eye-wear model, doppelganger of Star Trek’s Lt. Barclay and Tea Party union-crushing machine. Steely-eyed, he’s detemined to save corporate billionaire tycoons from all those greedy working-class people and taxes of any kind. Vulcan-like in demeanor, he hides his quiet rage. Although positively apoplectic, it rarely shows behind his mask of benign doltery — trained professional that he is.

It was when Michigan’s public employees attempted a blatant “power grab” with the recently failed Proposal 2 that Lt. McHugh got all jacked about setting his phaser from “stun” to “kill” based on what he envisions as a clear new prime directive to crush the public sector’s right to collective bargaining.

In the wake of the election, McHugh urged Michigan lawmakers to “review the status in this state of collective bargaining for government employees”. He referred to unions as pitching a “ballot initiative tantrum” through the proposal. (If you’re feeling bad about my poking fun at McHugh, you can stop — he basically called all public sector employees children that need discipline, so I’m going full-on Trekkie-themed screed here….hitting him in the dilithium crystals, if you will.)

McHugh asserts that unions are “the most powerful special interest” in Michigan’s governance. What planet has he been on for the past few years? Apparently his communicator has a special filtering device that prevented all of those noxious super PAC ads from reaching him, or maybe he’s on a long-term away-mission keeping him out of range, so he’s completely ignorant of the corrosive effects of Citizens United.

How can we possibly help our distant friend? — Let’s open all hailing frequences, fire-up the universal translator for “Cogent-to-Tea Party” language conversion, and beam him the Michigan Secretary of State Campaign Finance Database . There he will find the real meaning of “special interest”…and how it relates to his buddies in the Michigan Legislature, including his friend Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who McHugh lovingly quotes as saying this about busting public sector unions: “we need to seriously consider all options”. Although Richardville was not up for re-election this cycle, here’s 38 pages of his most recent “special interests”.

The good lieutenant wants to “make collective bargaining optional for local governments and school districts”.  Maybe if he’d just put those super-galactic-sized space goggles to good use he could do a little thoughtful research on how those government bodies actually feel about unions. He’d find out he’s got this one all wrong. In a comprehensive Michigan Public Policy Survey (October 2012) , from the U of M Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, we find a report titled “Michigan’s Local Leaders Satisfied with Union Negiotiations”, with the following data:

  • Only 27 percent of Michigan jurisdictions have union labor.
  • Of those, 78 percent recently negotiated contracts.
  • Unions made unilateral concessions 69 percent of the time.
  • 75 percent of local officials said they were satisfied with the negotiations.
  • An overwhelming 95 percent majority report an “excellent” to “fair” relationship with their unions.

Perhaps Lt. McHugh, with his ALEC and Tea Party friends, should scan for a suitable M-Class planet on which they may form a union-free, tax-free colony — because Michigan doesn’t want their time-warped fantasies inflicted on its governance.

Michigan Public Sector Employees — Live Long and Prosper!

Amy Kerr Hardin  of Democracy Tree

 

 

 

 

Michigan Needs American Legislative Exchange Council Accountability Act NOW

What is the “ALEC Accountability Act”?

Example Content of the ALEC Accountability Act draft “model legislation”:

Intro of the ALEC Accountability Act of 2012
AN ACT to amend (LIST of YOUR STATE’S Laws); and to create LIST OF NEW/AFFECTED LAWS and STATUES; relating to: attempts to influence action upon model or similar proposed legislation, prohibiting the expending of certain moneys by members of the legislature, and reporting by certain persons providing or state public officials receiving certain things of value for scholarship purposes.

Putting a stop to Taxpayer Funding of ALEC thru State reimbursed “Membership Fees”:
Payment of Membership Fees to certain organizations.  No member of the legislature may expend any moneys allocated for the operation of his or her office for membership fees in any organization that proposes uniform, model, suggested, or recommended legislation for consideration by the legislatures of this state and other states.

Defining ALEC core activities as “Legislative Action”:
“Legislative action” also includes the development, drafting, consideration, modification, adoption, rejection, or defeat of uniform, model, recommended, or suggested legislation by any body that recommends proposed legislation for consideration by the legislatures of this state and other states.

Correcting ‘Lobbying” Loop-hole used by ALEC:
“Lobbying” also includes the practice of attempting to influence legislative action by oral or written communication with any person who is a member, employee, or agent of a body that proposes uniform, model, suggested, or recommended legislation for consideration by the legislatures of this state and other states.
Reporting ALEC “Scholarships” or payments by ALEC to their members:

… every official required to file who receives for a published work or for the presentation of a talk or participation in a meeting, any lodging, transportation, money or other thing with a combined pecuniary value exceeding $50 excluding the value of food or beverage offered coincidentally with a talk or meeting and every official required to file who receives for attendance at a meeting or conference any thing of pecuniary value for scholarship purposes shall, on his or her statement of economic interests, report the identity of every person from whom the official receives such lodging, transportation, money or other thing during his or her preceding taxable year, the circumstances under which it was received and, the approximate value thereof, and whether the thing of value was received for scholarship purposes.

To read the rest of my article, please click here