Momentum builds for repeal of Emergency Manager bill
Union advocates and Tea Partiers uniting
By Eartha Jane Melzer
By giving emergency managers power to dismiss elected officials and privatize community assets Michigan Republicans have touched off a grassroots backlash that has teachers and even Tea Party supporters talking about a repeal campaign.
At a public meeting at the Traverse Area District Library last week a young man with dreadlocks handed out copies Public Act No. 4 to a largely retiree crowd of about 50 as Betsy Coffia, who works with the local Head Start Program, and Kevin Skarnulis, an English and Humanities teacher from Northport, led people through the 15-page bill with a video projector.
The new law, signed into effect by Gov. Rick Snyder on March 16, allows him to appoint Emergency Managers with power to fire elected officials, break labor agreements, privatize services, sell off assets and issue new bonds — all without the consent of local communities.
The law gives Emergency Managers protection from any lawsuits arising from their actions and specifies that the Attorney General will represent Emergency Managers at the expense of the local community.
Amendments to establish salary caps and a provide for public disclosure of Emergency Manager activities were voted down by the Legislature.
"I think you all should know this isn't happenstance. There is a very powerful legislative organization called ALEC that works on position papers just like the Mackinac institute does," said Mary Robling, chair of the 2nd Congressional district for the Democratic Party. "This was very well choreographed but it is totalistic, it is fascistic and it is anti-American."
"My heart is beating like crazy … it is just overwhelming."
Robling said that by taking away revenue sharing payments the state could force communities into dire financial straights and they would be forced to sell treasured resources such as water and minerals.
"Their thing is to get it done before we have time to do anything. People don't know how bad this is … they have no idea."
But opposition isn't coming only from the left. Randy Bishop, a former business owner and truck driver, ran for the state Senate last year as a Republican and identifies as the Tea Party leader in Traverse City.
"The devil is in the details," Bishop said. "They omitted the caps and all the things that should be in this bill. If we protest that is fine, I'm totally in agreement with that. It's too damn much governmental control in our lives."
Bishop said that during his campaign Republican leaders told him that 15-20 cities would fail by summer 2011 and that the state would be required to bail them out.
"Some of these municipalities have overspent their budget based on commitments they have given their employees … they are trying to take care of their teachers, of their government workers, but taxation did not match revenue expenses."
"[Imagine] you are the governor right now," he said. "This is going to happen in three months — what are you going to do?"