Question 1): Gov. Gretchen WHITMER last week signaled that she would sign the Right to Work (RtW) repeal bill that contains a token appropriation, despite signing an executive directive in 2019 that says she intends to veto any policy bill that includes an appropriations to circumvent the right to a referendum.The RtW $1 million appropriation directs the Department of Labor and Economic Growth to respond to public inquires about the act, staff up the Employment Relations Commission, and launch a public information campaign to employer and employees about the new law.
The appropriation would also make the bill ‘referendum proof,’ according to language in the state Constitution.
Rep. Graham FILLER (R-St. Johns) said he looked into the $1 million and sees it as a “slush fund” and nothing more. MIRS newsletter quoted Filler saying: “It’s the height of hypocrisy. It just shows that when you’re winning, you’re winning and when you want to do a thing, you do the thing. If she signs this bill as is, she doesn’t really believe in anything. When Republicans did it, she was opposed to it. Now that it helps Democrats, she’s in favor of it. It doesn’t get any more nakedly partisan than that.”
So, what about this? After all, what Whitmer now threatens to do is no different than what Republicans did on numerous other measures when they were in the House majority, dating back more than two decades. Should this be viewed as simply a matter of legislative ‘process’ that few in the general public understand? Shouldn’t fulfilling an ‘agenda’ goal (repealing RtW) by the majority Democrats be more important than trying to protect that goal (law) from a vote of the people through a ‘procedural’ mechanism?
Answer 1): No question, the Governor is not keeping her word, but that should be expected from Whitmer. She’s exercised an about-face many times before, dating back to her tenure in the Legislature. MIRS newsletter quoted former House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Albion) this way: “This is much like her scoffing at claims she’d raise gas taxes by 20 cents a gallon but then tried to raise them 45 cents, or her claim that the nonsensical COVID restrictions on gardening was in February 2020 when we all know it was April, You might call it a pattern, except the proper term in this case seems to be pathological.” No wonder Bolger is aggrieved — no one was more vociferous than Whitmer in calling for Bolger to be prosecuted or removed from office because he clumsily engineered a ploy to aid the party-switching ex-state Rep. Roy Schmidt in 2012 even while she was reticent on what should be done about Kwame Kilpatrick or former state Senators Henry Stallings or Bert Johnson, all Democrats.
Whitmer has pointed out that any ‘appropriations’ language in the current RtW bill was “not on (her) agenda,” and Democratic lawmakers have predictably backed her up by insisting that it was something they, not the governor, wanted in the measure. But does anybody doubt that, if Whitmer wanted ‘appropriations’ language stripped from the bill, legislative Democrats would quickly comply?
For that matter, why couldn’t Whitmer use a line-item veto on the $1 million? MIRS quoted House Republican spokesperson Jeremiah WARD noting that the Governor tried to justify her volto-face with these words: “I don’t believe that that’s something available on a bill like that.” (See “$1M Appropriations Was Not On Gov’s RTW Repeal Agenda, But Doesn’t Stop Her Plans To Sign,” 3/13/23). However, in 2019, Whitmer signed a bill that used her line-item veto power to strike money out of a Wrongful Imprisonment bill.
No question, both political parties have misused the ‘appropriations’ language put in place by the 1961-62 Constitutional Convention, which never intended for it to be employed in this way. The courts have had numerous chances to rectify this, but as usual they have deferred to almost anything the Legislature does as a “separate branch of government.”
Whitmer’s latest switcheroo is different from all the other instances of ‘appropriations-to-stop-a-referendum’ only in that she has been more outspoken on the subject, more frequently and over a longer period of time as well as more recently than anyone else.
But she’ll get away with it again.
Question 2): By the time November, 2024, rolls around, if the state income tax rate really has been lowered, will those who should get the credit for it — Republican legislators — get any reward for it at the polls?
Answer 2): Unfortunately for the Michigan GOP, probably not a whole lot. Incredibly to some, legislative Democrats will also claim victory. With the Dems holding the bully pulpit — the House, Senate and governorship — they will be leveraging the tax reduction in their favor just as much as Republicans come November, 2024. Lansing insiders know Senate Republicans should be credited with the tax cut, but the public won’t care, nor will a lot of them even know. If they do, expect Gov. Whitmer and Democratic candidates to take full credit, especially when they can claim they were the party that undid the unpopular Republican pension tax on Michigan seniors, as well as expanding the tax credit for working families, which Republicans had reduced in 2011. It could even be argued that most voters won’t notice that their state taxes are a hundred bucks lower (especially if they do ‘withholding’). Some people will be wondering why the lauded pension tax cut didn’t apply to them.
Question 3): Are the Michigan Democrats likely to suffer any negative political ramifications for reinstating the Prevailing Wage and repealing Right to Work (RtW)?
Answer 3): Not one legislative Republican lost his or her seat over either of these issues during the past decade and it’s unlikely any Democrats will, either. It’s true that attitudes toward RtW have changed quite a bit over the past 10 years since it was enacted in Michigan. Public opinion — and certainly the news media — were generally OPPOSED to instituting RtW in 2012, but today surveys show that a plurality of voters would like to see it retained. For that reason, many moderate business groups and leaders may rethink what has been their budding alliance with the Democratic Party. So Dem candidates may suffer because of this, but apparently they have decided that rewarding and strengthening their existing coalition while alienating much of the rest of the population is a risk they are willing to take.
As for businesses and corporations outside Michigan looking to move here, our becoming the first state to reinstate the old-fashioned ‘closed shop’ model may not be the lure they want to see. Bottom line: The biggest question is what the impact will be on voter turnout if there is a ballot initiative in 2024 to enshrine Right to Work into the state Constitution.
As for the prevailing wage debate, few citizens understand it. It’s more of a propaganda tool, and more base politics. It will mostly affect K-12 public schools by ensuring that building projects are more expensive and that bidding will have more bureaucracy, more expense, and more rules on which workers can do what. Yes, that means less money going into technology and security upgrades, but probably few voters will notice.
Question 4): Is there anything organized labor can do to get a higher percentage of Michigan voters to be more sympathetic to its cause?
Answer 4) Encouraged by its greatest champion, President Joe Biden, support for labor unions nationally is actually at its highest point since 1965. A Gallup poll last year found that 71% of Americans now approve of labor unions.
That said, the graft, scandals, and corruption in labor unions over the past several decades have taken their toll on organized labor — that’s why Republicans hammer away at “union bosses,” whom all surveys find extremely unpopular. Also, talent attraction and retention is already one of the biggest issues facing the workforce, and forced unionization doesn’t help retain employees. More younger workers will seek employment elsewhere rather than being forced to pay for their job. Skilled trades workers are far more entrepreneurial than they used to be. If unions try to regain control of those licensing procedures the way they were two decades ago, it will cause multiple problems.
The fact is that, even in Michigan, most union employees are not private sector anymore — they’re government workers. The UAW’s biggest local is not in the industry indicated by the “A-for-Auto.” It’s state employees. Therefore, the biggest immediate change is likely to force teachers to rejoin a union. If Democrats really want to push that button, they’ll try to repeal the law abolishing teacher strikes and give state tax credits to those paying union dues. Let’s see how popular those are with the general non-union public.