Supreme Court case involves union intimidation, coercion
F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy, writes on Townhall today about arguments the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard in a case about union intimidation and coercion, as well as Big Labor's continual push to deny workers the sanctity of the secret ballot when voting on whether or not they want to be in a union.
Union front group's credibility in question
The Daily Caller, Gongwer News Service and The Washington Free Beacon have exposed several examples of plagiarism in a “report” about the Mackinac Center put out by a union front group called Progress Michigan, as well as attempts by the group to cover it up.
“This calls into question the veracity of the entire report and the credibility of Progress Michigan,” Center spokesman Ted O’Neil told The Daily Caller.
Marketing and Communications Team Leader Dan Armstrong told The Washington Free Beacon that “The Mackinac Center holds its research to a high standard and encourages rigorous critique of it,” but that “plagiarism is a serious offense and should never be considered credible.”
MEA hid opt out information from them
Statewide media is reporting on a hearing held Wednesday by the Senate Compliance and Accountability Committee regarding the MEA’s failure to allow members to resign as per their rights under Michigan’s worker freedom law.
WOOD-TV, The Grand Rapids Press and Detroit Free Press all reported that teachers and other school employees testified about their inability to get information from the teachers union regarding how to opt out.
“My union president told me she didn’t want me to get into trouble with the MEA,” Amy Breza, a paraeducator from Clarkston, told the committee. “I told her you need to talk to my attorney.”
Miriam Chanski, a kindergarten teacher from Coopersville, said “That information was not given to us upfront. It was actively hidden from us.”
Breza and Chanski are both clients of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which has filed unfair labor practice complaints on behalf of eight public school employees against the MEA.
Over past decade, government compensation skyrocketed while private sector shrunk
Some unionized state workers are marching in protest over contract negotiations, but taxpayers are the ones who should actually be upset.
“[S]tate government employees argued that they've already made enough concessions over the last decade and don't want any more cuts,” reported MLive.
But, as the article notes, state taxpayers are spending an extra $160 million this year on employees — mostly going toward the rising costs of pensions and health care. As Michigan Capitol Confidential reported earlier this year, the average Michigan government employee’s compensation now exceeds six-figures for the first time, with costs increasing from $97,889 in 2010-11 to $104,067 in 2011-12 per average employee.
The union representing most of the workers, UAW Local 6000, says on its website that it is protesting because "state workers are under the gun" and health care costs will "literally bankrupt" some union members.
But state employees are actually making 31 percent more than in fiscal year 1998-99, with benefit costs 75 percent higher, both adjusted for inflation. Perhaps the union should have some sympathy for Michigan taxpayers, who saw their median household income fall 19.2 percent over that time period.
These tough negotiations are not limited to state government. Re-aligning the benefits packages more toward private-sector averages would save a lot of money, and help head off the fiscal problems Michigan is heading toward as retirement pension and health care benefits continually are underfunded.
A study by James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy, shows that benchmarking all state and local government employee benefits in Michigan to the private-sector average would save $5.8 billion annually.
It's not fun to hold down anyone's pay or benefits, but taking an increasing amount over the past decade from a shrinking private sector to fund government benefits has led to fiscal problems. The state simply cannot continue to see an increase in public employee costs relative to private workers.
(Editor's note: This story has been slightly edited since its original posting.)
Skorup: Roadblocks hurt the poor
The Michigan Legislature is considering a package of bills that would reduce or eliminate the amount of regulations and licensing requirements for several professions, which Mackinac Center analysts have long called for.
“We feel that if you can go out and do a job and it’s not affecting the health of safety of someone else, you should be able to do it,” Research Associate Jarrett Skorup told MLive.
Skorup explains in this Downriver Sunday Times op-ed how regulatory roadblocks often hurt the poor by making it harder for them to enter the job market.
With a slew of bills, the Michigan Senate is moving slightly in the direction of more freedom for beer drinkers.
But, with the backing of some Michigan brewers, the Legislature also voted to codify ridiculous rules that try to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.
At the same time the Michigan Liquor Control Commission was working to repeal some Prohibition Era rules, the Senate voted to put them into law. Bars and restaurants in the state are not allowed to have glasses or napkins with logos on them and if Senate Bill 505 passes the House alcohol manufacturers, sellers and distributors could not give bars and restaurants items that promote their brands.
The Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, which represents a lot of craft brewers, agrees with the rule. According to MIRS News, "Their rationale is that allowing big manufacturers like Budweiser to stock restaurants and bars with their logoed glasses, possibly in exchange for getting tap space in those places, would crowd out the little guys, including Michigan's burgeoning craft beer industry."
But that doesn't make any sense. People should be able to freely enter into whatever types of agreements they want. For example, Sam's Club should continue to be allowed to offer free samples of food manufacturers' products; diners should be able to enter into exclusive agreements with Pepsi or Coke or Faygo; stores should offer coupons for certain products; and bars and restaurants should be allowed to accept free merchandise.
If craft brewers want to work out their own deals, they should do so. That's how competition in the marketplace works, and it means cheaper and better products for consumers.
As reported by the Associated Press, the Michigan Restaurant Association notes that Michigan is "the only state to fully prohibit logoed barware items."
"Apparently free market principles and the elimination of frivolous government intrusion are no longer priorities of Senate Republicans," Brian DeBano, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant Association, told the AP. "I will be sure to consult with the caucus the next time my members want to change ketchup brands to make sure they approve."
It's particularly disappointing to see the beer and wine wholesalers association working for select restrictions on their larger competitors, considering they have long been the losers in Michigan's complicated and unnecessary alcohol regulation regime.
It is not the job of government to pick and choose winners and losers in the marketplace.
Brewers and establishments of all sizes should be aware of one of former Mackinac Center President Larry Reed's Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy: "[A] government that's big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you've got."
Senate Joint Resolution V, Call for U.S. balanced budget amendment convention: Passed 26 to 12 in the Senate
To submit an application to Congress calling for a "convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Consitution," limited to proposing an amendment that prohibits the federal government from spending more in any fiscal year than it collects in tax and other revenue (balanced budget amendment). Legislatures representing two-thirds of the states must request this to get a convention, and three-quarters of the states must approve any amendment proposed by an “Article V” convention for it to become part of the constitution. The resolution names 17 states that have submitted applications.
Senate Bill 652, Establish state Appeals Court as venue for suits against the state: Passed 57 to 52 in the House
To establish that the venue for all legal claims against state agencies, commissions, boards, etc. (the state “court of claims”), will no longer be the Ingham County circuit court, and instead will be the state Court of Appeals (which consists of 24 judges elected in four regional elections).
House Bill 5050, Ban credit card fraud "skimming" devices: Passed 109 to 0
To authorize criminal penalties for the use of a "skimmer" device to gain access to a person's financial accounts (for example, when using an ATM machine). This and other bills in a legislative package would authorize the same penalties as a 2012 law banning "automated sales suppression devices" for falsifying electronic cash register records (called “zappers”): Five years and a $25,000 fine for a first offense, increasing to 15 years for a third and subsequent offenses.
SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.
Demand accountability instead
Without much fanfare, the Michigan Senate recently approved pouring an additional $300 million through 2019 into a corporate welfare program that's a holdover from Gov. Jennifer Granholm's time in office.
An annual $75 million earmark to the program had been scheduled to sunset in 2015.
Before rubber-stamping the extension, House members should force the state's "economic development" gurus to finally cough up some basic information on the actual performance and outcomes of this 21st Century Jobs Fund scheme.
For starters, they should demand to know how much taxpayer money has been spent, and what we have to show for it. That the program's annual reports fail to answer these basic questions should raise all kinds of red flags for legislators, journalists and the public.
Some background: In 2005, Gov. Granholm proposed to invest $2 billion in borrowed money to support "next-generation" industries. It was this program that inspired her famous "In five years you'll be blown away" declaration.
After initial skepticism from Republican legislators, a package was enacted that borrowed $400 million, pledged another $600 million through 2015 in annual earmarks, and shoved this money out the door in a variety of ways.
Gov. Granholm (and most reporters) claimed a total commitment of $2 billion, with an additional purely speculative $1 billion "blue sky" figure representing all the marvelous profits expected from picking "winner" companies in which the state would take a partial ownership stake, among other activities.
For their part, Republicans — led by then state representative and current Congressman Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, — also took an ownership stake in the adventure, resurrecting a proposal that was floundering due to Gov. Granholm's intransigence on a package of tax cuts they wanted (and never got) in return for approving this spending spree.
Hundreds of millions of dollars later, here are some more questions today's Legislature should ask the Michigan Economic Development Corp.:
- What happened to the first round of "winner" firms that received grants and loans in 2007? After six years, the MEDC still does not report how much taxpayer money was spent, much less what outcomes were realized.
- Having bought stakes in private equity, mezzanine, and venture capital funds, how much does the state own and what is it worth? The MEDC has not reported on whether there have been any returns on the money. Likewise, what investments in Michigan projects were undertaken?
- Why does the program change every year? There was statutory guidance on the initial set of programs, but this setup was never enforced and each year brings shifting targets and goals. (Note: The state senate has passed a bill that appears to strip away the façade of expert-guided investment and simply gives the political appointees who run the MEDC's parent agency, the Michigan Strategic Fund, discretion on how to spend the money.)
Although the program's annual report doesn't seem to answer the most important questions, it raises plenty of new ones. Among them:
- What does "negative jobs" mean? (For example, a firm called, "IA Inc./ ThreeFold Sensors," was given a $2.6 million state loan and generated "-3.84 jobs.")
- When loans were made were they ever repaid?
- When grants were authorized, how much was actually delivered?
- If a 21st Century project closes, is that ever reported?
In the remainder of her term, Gov. Granholm had many occasions to regret her "blown away" puffery. Before giving a new lease on life to the program that inspired it, today's legislators should discover whether what was really blown away was millions of taxpayer dollars.
Senate continues to ignore reforms
It's easy to pass new state mandates and tough to get rid of them once passed. But the Michigan House is at least making some progress.
The state has a lot of licensing mandates that drive up costs for consumers while not providing any health or safety benefits. But why is this?
The reason is found in the economic theory known as "public choice," which applies economic reasoning to the political process. One part of public choice theory can best be described as "concentrated benefits and diffuse costs." In short, when a small segment stands to benefit greatly from some policy, they will fight much harder for it than the larger segment that is harmed will fight against it since the harm is either hidden or so small that it is not rational for the individuals making up the larger segment to spend a lot of time fighting the policy.
So consider licensing. A House committee is currently considering a bill that would eliminate license requirements for dietitians and nutritionists. The bill to license these workers was only passed in 2006 and has not taken effect for a variety of legal reasons and unresolved problems.
As Michigan Capitol Confidential has noted, other states licensing people who give food advice have run into trouble. Yet, when the committee met to discuss the bill last week, MIRS News reported that a "standing room only" crowd filled three rooms to protest the bill. That's because a small group gets to decide on the tests, requirements and fees paid, standing to benefit financially from the licensing — whether it helps protect people or not. That group has an incentive to gather people and push for laws that give them this power, while, conversely, the majority of regular people are unaware of the bill and are mostly harmed only slightly if the repeal does not pass.
That's what makes recent votes from State House members stand out. In the past year, the House has voted to repeal licensure on interior designers, foresters, community planners, auctioneers, ocularists, proprietary school solicitors, immigration clerical assistants, residential lift installers and others. Bills regarding landscape architects and polygraph examiners also are being considered in committees.
Unfortunately, the Michigan Senate has not taken up any of the above bills. Repealing licensing mandates means more people able to find work more easily; something all politicians should support.