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.
Tim Sullivan says
Nice article, Bill. I think you’re spot on with all four answers to the questions. You pointed out one of the great rules of politics: SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE IS SAUCE FOR THE GANDER.
Jase Bolger doth protest too much, methinks. If he can dish it out like he did in the legislature and Civil Service Commission, he should be able to receive some in return.
And for the GOP legislators, who mostly seem to be a duly owned subsidiary of business, they operate on the “old” attitude that low taxes and deregulation is what businesses want. Some businesses do, but not all. If that were the case, Michigan would be booming. When in power, the GOP deregulated the snot out of the state; slashed taxes so our state and local tax burden is now 5th lowest in the nation; and tried to eviscerate labor through right to work and killing prevailing wage. And if that has not worked, maybe the plan wasn’t the right one?
So, CS Commissioner Bolger and the GOP legislators and leadership in the legislature, WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND. There will come a time in the future when they are in charge and the paybacks can begin. And when they lose power again, the paybacks will be against them. So stop whining about it. It’s unbecoming.
Cheryl L. Krapf-Haddock says
Thanks for your insights Mr Tim Sullivan!
Tim Sullivan says
Robin K. says
Right now there is discussion among conservatives in Michigan about organizing a Right-to-Work ballot initiative.
Even though Right-to-Work is in and of itself may not be enough to sway voters in large numbers, the combination of that issue, LGBT civil rights protections, and abortion rights advocacy together WILL cause electoral problems for the Dems in 2024 in Michigan legislative elections.
Marc L says
Yes, the combination of three issues where all available polling supports the Dem position will certainly cause electoral problems! Oh please Karmo, dont throw the Dems into that briar patch!
Paul Warrick says
I have listened to conservative arguments for decades and could care less about their reaction on this issue. The greed and wrongdoings of corporations has been allowed to get out of control. It is now a cancer on our economy that will lead to nothing good. After more than 4 decades of gerrymandered state senate Republican control, I’ll worry about partisan hypocrisy when the scales have finally balance. Don’t hold your breath. It’s going to take a while.
Robert Nelson says
I agree with Paul. The greed and corruption of corporations vastly outstrips the corruption of unions. RTW restores a small advantage for unions and Whitmer’s signature does not establish any degree of hypocrisy,
David L Richards says
Bill rightfully points out the hypocrisy of the Democrats, but we should also recognize that the bar has been lowered in that respect by Republicans, at least in recent history. Republican strategy, including phony voice votes to give immediate effect to legislation passed by a gerrymandered Republican legislature, adding token appropriations to avoid referendums as alluded to by Bill, effectively stealing redistricting for the Oakland County Commission, and at the federal level blocking appointment of qualified Supreme Court nominees just because the Republicans had the power to do so, has led rank and file Democrats to ask, “Republicans play hardball, how come we don’t?”, The result is not good government, but let’s remember the context.
dan murphy says
RTW is anti Small Business. Progressive ideology is promoting a massive Hegelian expansion of Govt. power and a weakening of Middle Class and Small Business interests. Historically, Progressive third party candidate, Henry Wallace in the 1948 campaign was highly critical of both political Parties and was opposed to much of the Truman policies following the election. The Democratic Party of 2023 now appears to be controlled by the Independent1948″Progressive Party” Ideology. Progressives are now the controlling force in the two party system .
Robin K. says
The turning point was where the Ann Arbor progressives stunned the Michigan Democratic Party in 2018 and the UAW-endorsed candidates lost at the state convention. Dana Nessel upset Patrick Miles for the Attorney General nomination and Gretchen Whitmer had earlier embraced progressives at Hash Bash.
But nationally, progressives like Ihlan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and AOC are only heroes in their respective congressional districts. They are not electable to the U.S. Senate unless they moderate their strong left-wing ideological positions.
I see that the dems only support “freedom of choice” when it suits them.