Office of Government Affairs
For the week of January 17, 2012…..
RIGHT-TO-WORK DEBATE WORRIES GOVERNOR – Having said the item is not on his agenda, although saying during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign he would sign it if it reaches his desk, Governor Snyder expressed concern over Right-to-Work legislation. Attending the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mr. Snyder said a debate on Right-to-Work legislation could become so contentious it could consume the Capitol and adversely impact the ability for him and the Legislature to finalize other important issues. The Governor pointed to events in other states as a potential as to what could happen here if lawmakers move to consider the legislation. In general, the measure prohibits collective bargaining agreements that make mandatory union membership and the collection of union dues a condition of employment. If enacted, workers who opt not to join the union would still enjoy the benefit, provided under federal law, of having their wage and benefit package negotiated by the union. Although under growing pressure to take a stance on the issue, Mr. Snyder said there were a lot of other items on his 2012 agenda that he feels “are more important.” He also said debate on such a divisive issue would create a legislative environment “where not much gets done.” He pointed to events in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana where the Right to Work debate in those states became all consuming at the expense of other important issues as valid reasons for his concern.
Action on a broad-based, all-inclusive proposal, if it occurs at all once the proposal is finally introduced, is most likely to begin in the House, with a spokesperson for House Speaker Jase Bolger saying no decision has been made on when to start the debate. The spokesperson said, Mr. Bolger, while having no predetermined outcome in mind, “believes that we need to be willing to have any and all conversations that can help us provide more opportunities for workers in Michigan.” The spokesperson also disputed the notion that a full-blown debate on the issue would see the Legislature grind to a halt on all other issues, noting actions in the Lower Chamber last showed the body “can tackle a number of difficult issues at the same time and still get a lot accomplished.”
Currently, the only Right-to-Work proposal in the Senate at this time would apply the ban on mandatory union membership and dues to just those school districts where the staff is represented by the Michigan Education Association. Like the Governor, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville has repeatedly said the issue is not a personal priority, but he also acknowledges the topic is of interest to a number of his caucus colleagues. He also softened his stance a bit contending he would not stand in the way of a floor debate if the House approves its measure or the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee sends its bill on the topic to the floor. Mr. Richardville said he supports the Senate proposal but opposes the broader version currently before the Lower Chamber, but also indicated Senate consideration of the issue, regardless of format, would also depend on whether or not the Governor would actually sign such a measure.
Meanwhile, Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift argued approval of a Right-to-Work statute in Michigan would not help create jobs here. Challenging the need for the legislation, Ms. Swift noted six of the ten states with the highest unemployment rates are Right-to-Work states while charging firms that locate in those jurisdictions provide lower wages and benefits for their workers.
DECEMBER REVENUES MISS FORECAST – In its monthly revenue report, the Senate Fiscal Agency (SFA) says overall tax collections in December came in $12.6 million below forecast levels. Primary cause for the decline, the SFA said, was lower than expected Income Tax withholding payments for the month. The report noted, the Sales Tax, along with other revenue sources, are performing above expectations which helped diminish the impact of the lower withholding payments. The report said General Fund revenues in December fell $6.6 million below the target set by the May Revenue Estimating Conference while School Aid Fund (SAF) collections dipped $9.9 million below the May forecast. However, the report went on to note that for the year General Fund revenues had increased $12.8 million while SAF monies were down $84.8 million.
BRIDGE DECISION EXPECTED AFTER STATE OF STATE – Sources contend Governor Snyder is still considering his final decision related to the New International Trade Crossing (N.I.T.C.)—the proposed second span linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, Canada—and will not make any announcement on that decision until after delivering the annual State of the State Address. The sources also said the Governor’s decision-making process has involved talks with officials from both the federal and Canadian governments as he evaluates the available options. While several options that do not require legislative approval exist, it is believed the Governor is favoring one of three key choices—using an intergovernmental agreement, probably with Canada, transferring authority for the N.I.T.C. project to the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, or giving responsibility for the bridge’s construction to the federal government.
LAWMAKER SAYS FEDS WON’T DESIGN HEALTH EXCHANGE – House Health Policy Committee members will take testimony from the general public on the format of the proposed health insurance exchange, with Committee Chair Gail Haines scheduling the January 19th meeting in the House Appropriations Committee room in anticipation of up to 500 persons attending. Ms. Haines said the anticipated large turnout reflects the belief held by many constituents that their voice is not being heard, but, she said, “I want to assure them that their voices are being heard.” Ms. Haines also said she is uncertain whether the committee will hold another hearing seeking public input or if her panel will even discuss the issue again before the U.S. Supreme Court considers the issue later this year. The nation’s highest court has scheduled oral arguments on the statute’s individual mandate facet for March with many court observers predicting a decision in June. Ms. Haines said the committee will not vote on the legislation creating the exchange until the case has been decided, but she also promised the House will be ready to act on the measure and will not leave the state exposed to the possibility of a federally designed insurance exchange if the Supreme Court rules the statute is constitutional. Those critical of the delay have argued that waiting for a final ruling could result in Michigan being forced to operate under a federally designed model, but Ms. Haines reiterated that “If it happens, it will be a program for Michigan, written by Michigan,” with any action being “a very prudent approach to all this.”
ODDS AND ENDS – officials with the Michigan International Speedway and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation have announced the signing of a three-year deal to continue their partnership of the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race…..although a time for the meeting has not been set, Governor Snyder will, along with Budget Director John Nixon, personally deliver his Executive Budget to a joint meeting of the legislative Appropriations Committees on February 9th…..Robert LaBrant, long-time Vice President and General Counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce—recognized nationally for his knowledge of election law and the election process—has announced he will retire effective March 31st…..as required by the Michigan Constitution, state lawmakers reconvened session on Wednesday (1-11-12), but neither chamber held any votes on legislation…..setting the stage for the appointment of an emergency manager, Governor Snyder has declared a financial emergency exists in the Highland Park School District, a ruling district officials intend to appeal in a hearing before Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan…..according to RealtyTrac, Michigan ranked sixth nationally for foreclosure activity in 2011, with one of every 45 Michigan households—just over 100,000 in total—involved in some aspect of the process…..Senate Democrats are calling for the creation of a college grants program providing up to $9,500 per year for four years to students who received all their K-12 education in Michigan with the program financed by closing some $3.5 billion in unspecified tax loopholes, cutting state contract costs by 10 percent and applying Sale Tax collections to online purchases.