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Michigan's 'Emergency Manager Law' Epitomizes State-Level 'Shock Doctrine'

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to get Emergency Manager powers this week

by Eartha Jane Melzer

Public workers in Michigan lost job security yesterday as the state House signed off on a bill that allows the governor to appoint people to take over financially troubled local governments and schools and cancel labor contracts.

Less than two months after Gov. Rick Snyder asked the Legislature to expand the state’s ability to intervene in communities facing budget problems, the Republican-controlled House and Senate have finalized a bill that gives unprecedented power to appointed Emergency Managers.

The Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act creates a range of triggers for state involvement in local communities and allows the governor to appoint managers to fire local elected officials, break labor agreements, suspend collective bargaining rights for five years, order millage elections, take over pension funds and even dissolve local governments.

The law also contains a provision added by the Senate that gives towns a chance to avoid takeover by entering into a budgeting consent agreement with the state and becoming exempt from collective bargaining agreements.

“The Governor will sign,” spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Tuesday afternoon. “He believes this was an important step forward and will be a key tool to help indicate and address fiscal problems earlier and more clearly in Michigan’s cities and schools with the hopes of avoiding the appointment of an emergency manager to begin with.”

Critics say that the Emergency Manager legislation is part of a nationwide Republican effort to consolidate political power by undermining unions.

In an interview with FOX News last week Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald acknowledged that the (apparently successful) effort to end collective bargaining and break unions in that state is aimed at hurting Democratic chances in the 2012 presidential election.

“If we win this battle and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions,” he said, “Obama is going to have a much … more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”

“The distinction between Michigan and Wisconsin is that Governor Snyder is a lot smarter than Governor Walker,” said American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker. “He is going after things in other ways.”

“Yes, some school districts and cities are in financial difficulties that have to be addressed,” he said, “but you don’t do that by wiping out the powers of elected officials, or by wiping out collective bargaining …this will wreak havoc on cities and school districts.”

The new law is likely to hit Snyder’s desk as busloads of union members and other concerned people roll into the Capitol to protest both the Emergency Manager bill and the proposed state revenue sharing cuts that could drive many communities into receivership.

AFL-CIO affiliated unions, Working Michigan, Michael Moore and others are mobilizing for a noon protest at the Capitol under the banner “NO to GOP attacks on Michigan’s middle class.”

City council members and residents from Benton Harbor are expected to join the rally in Lansing today.

Benton Harbor is the poorest town in Michigan and since last year its finances have been under the control of Joe Harris, the emergency financial manager appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Harris and the city council have clashed over cost cutting measures and under the new Emergency Manager bill Harris will have the power to disband the council.

Benton Harbor is already experiencing corporate-style restructuring.

Jean Klock Park, the city’s public lakefront, has been leased to a non-profit associated with the locally headquartered Whirlpool Corp. and turned into an elite private golf course.

Though much of the concern around the Emergency Manager bill has focused on the loss of benefits and jobs that will come when labor contracts can be shredded, another expected impact is increasing privatization of city assets.

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles told WNDU.com that the city’s commissioners hope to join with other communities in a class action suit challenging the new Emergency Manager law.

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