Opponents of emergency financial manager law turn in signatures to put law on ballot
LANSING — Hundreds of opponents of the controversial emergency financial manager law marched to the Richard Austin Building — home of the Michigan Secretary of State — to turn in hundreds of thousands of signatures to repeal the law.
If approved, the measure will be on the 2012 ballot, and the law will be suspended until the results of that election are complete.
But Ari Adler, spokesman for Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) says there has been discussion within the caucus about how to deal with the “chaos,” should the law be suspended.
“There has been discussion of a temporary law that would provide some protection for taxpayers and on fiscal accountability,” Adler said.
He denied there was any plan to introduce legislation which would include an appropriation. Such a move would make the new bill, if signed into law, ballot proof.
A group of more than 250 people marched from a downtown church to the Bureau of Elections to deliver 50 boxes of signatures. The signatures represent voters in every county in the state and will now be culled by the elections staff to certify the validity of the signatures.
Supporters of the ballot measure say they turned in 24,167 petition pages, representing 226,637 individual signatures. To qualify for the ballot, the measure needs only 161,305 valid signatures.
Officials at the Secretary of State’s office have 60 days to sample the petitions and provide a report to the four-member Board of Canvassers. The Board must approve or reject the measure in that same time frame, says Fred Woohams, spokesperson for the department. He says the Board can request an additional 15-days for certification.
If the signatures are approved, the law will be frozen until after the 2012 election.
The law has drawn national attention as it provides for what opponents say is a dictator. Under the law, once a state financial review has declared a local government in financial distress, the governor can appoint a manager. The manager has broad powers including the ability to unilaterally end negotiated contracts, sell public property, and suspend the authority of elected officials to act.
Since it was signed into law, the legislation has been a point of deep contention, with many arguing the law was being used to attack mostly minority communities. The Detroit Public Schools, Flint, Benton Harbor, and Pontiac are currently under an EMF. Meanwhile, people in Inkster, the City of Detroit, and the Highland Parks Schools are facing financial reviews.
The law is being challenged in state court, and the Ingham County Circuit Court ruled two weeks ago that emergency financial review teams were required to meet in public under the state’s open meetings act. That ruling revoked the appointment of an Emergency Financial Manager in Highland Park Schools, and last week, the legislature voted to move state aide for that district — which is apportioned, in part, by student census — to neighboring districts.
In announcing the House passage of the legislation, House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) had this to say:
“The Highland Park school district has financially collapsed. There are no excuses for the bad decisions made by the adults in charge but we had to act to protect the students. Not one dime of the Distressed District Student Transition Grant will go to the legal entity of the Highland Park School District because they have proven they cannot manage money responsibly. The students and parents of Highland Park are the victims of a district that has failed them for years. Today, the House Democrats tried to turn their backs on those victims and I’m proud of the House Republican caucus for standing up and doing the right thing.”
Bolger said the Highland Park Schools had been spending $16,000 per student since August of last year.
In a statement released to the media on the submission of signatures, the law’s original sponsor, Rep. Al Pscholka (R-St. Joseph), had this to say about the turning in of the signatures:
The simple truth is that the Fiscal Accountability Act protects hard-working taxpayers from the repeated poor financial decisions of some local governments and school districts. There is no fine print, no other motive. These entities need to remember that they answer to hard-working taxpayers, not powerful special interest groups who are angered by the accountability measures these taxpayers demand.
Over the course of several years, and in some cases decades, some local governments and school districts have overspent, misappropriated, and misallocated millions of tax dollars. For example, Highland Park Schools has lost roughly 2,000 students over the last six years, but they have failed to make spending reforms necessary to continue operating on their own, causing repeated, massive deficits despite three separate emergency loans.
But Rev. Alexander Bullock of Rainbow PUSH of Detroit says the problem is much deeper than the way supporters of the law paint the crisis. He notes that both federal and state policies have driven the financial insolvency of many communities and that federal trade policy has driven hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs out of the state and into other countries. On top of that, he says, the state has not been supplying the statutorily required amounts of revenue sharing with local governments.
But the final insult, he said, was the move to cut taxes on businesses.
“What we have here is a perfect storm,” Bullock told TAI. “We know that cutting business taxes has led to rising tides and leading those to drowning without a boat.”
The state legislature approved legislation last May that resulted in a $1.3 billion tax cut to businesses, while creating taxes on pensions and eliminating many low income tax credits.
House Democrats praised the submission of signatures in a press release Wednesday.
“These signatures are a win for the people of our state to show Legislative Republicans that Michiganders do not tolerate extreme breaches of power by their government,” said House Democratic Leader Richard E. Hammel (D-Mt. Morris Township). “Our caucus has heard numerous complaints about this law from residents and have consistently fought against the seizing of local control by the governor’s administration. It is time to let the people of Michigan decide if these broad reaching powers are something they’d like to give to their government.”
But Adler says the problem is the failure of local leaders to live within their budgets, and that without action the current financial emergencies appearing across the state will result in bankruptcy proceedings for those local governments.
“If you wanna see a loss of democracy, wait until you’re standing before a bankruptcy court,” Adler said.