Patrick Wright, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s senior legal analyst, believes there may be an easier way to get at cutting state employee’s pay and benefits than the burdensome and difficult process of amending the state constitution.
With a $1.8 billion projected deficit for the state budget, plus a plan to revamp the state’s major business tax, Gov. Rick Snyder has indicated that public employee pay and benefit cuts are on the table but has not yet given specifics about how this may happen.
State Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, has proposed a constitutional amendment to cut government employee pay by 5 percent. It would override collective bargaining agreements. But the proposal attempts to do it by amending the state constitution, which requires a 2/3 vote by the House and Senate and approval by the voters.
Wright said there may be an easier way.
He thinks it possible that the Legislature could pass legislation ordering the reductions of state employee pay and benefits. Then the Michigan Civil Service Commission would have to approve the changes for state employees. There would also have to be an amendment to the Public Employment Relations Act and the Teachers’ Tenure Act, Wright said.
Then the legislation would be super-imposed over the language of public employee union contracts once they expired.
“The field is pretty open if they are willing to mess with the Public Employment Relations Act,” Wright said.
State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, said he plans on asking the Attorney General’s office for their opinion on a related matter. McMillin said he hopes Wright’s plan would be able to override existing union contracts.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to wait until they expire,” McMillin said. “Because we don’t have time to wait.”
But one union leader said any changes should be done during negotiations.
“Unilateral imposition of bargaining issues for public employees covered by PERA may be a legal problem absent changes in the PERA act,” Phillip Thompson, executive vice president of the Michigan public employees’ Service Employees International Union, wrote in an e-mail. “However, we do not believe the Legislature has authority over bargaining issues covering state employees because of the specific Constitutional authority granted to the Michigan Civil Service Commission. In both instances, it is our position that these issues should be handled at the bargaining table by the parties that are directly involved.”