By Susan Koenig
BENZONIA – On Wednesday, May 18, the Benzie County Democrats sponsored a community forum on state budget proposals and Public Act 4 (known as the Emergency Financial Manager Bill; see “Show Us the Money,” Elberta Alert, April 29) at the Mills Community House in Benzonia. Presenters were former State Representative Mary Valentine and her legislative assistant, Anne Pawli. Ms. Valentine presented an outline of Michigan’s state governmental and economic history over the past 30 years, including a detailed explanation of Public Act 4, and Ms. Pawli explained how to use various internet sites to stay informed. About 50 concerned citizens attended the event.
Before she began her discourse on the financial ups and downs of the state, Valentine provided copies of a speech by Bill Moyers regarding the dangers of plutocracy (government by the wealthy). According to Moyers:
Historically, when a government becomes a plutocracy, its chances of continuing as a democracy diminish…. As they [the rich] form their own financial culture increasingly separated from the fate of everyone else, it is hardly surprising that so many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the American people.
The audience asked questions about education, jobs, the economy, and taxes, and Valentine shared her experiences and the knowledge she acquired during her two terms as a state representative from the 91st district (2008–2010).
On March 16 of this year, the Snyder government passed a bill called Public Act 4, also known as the Local Government and School District Accountability Act, which expanded the powers outlined in Public Act 72, which was signed into law by Governor Jim Blanchard in 1988 and was titled the Emergency Financial Manager Law. The revised Snyder model works like this: A state review team comes to the town, village, county, or school district to assess its financial problems. Locals are not part of this team. If the team determines the need for an Emergency Manager, the governor appoints one and the locals have ten days to appeal the decision.
There is no cap on the EFM’s salary, which is paid by the local entity under review for as long as it takes to resolve the crisis. He or she can sell property, including lakeshore frontage, without going to bids, force school districts to consolidate with others, close public schools, or abolish cities or towns, with no input from the affected communities. The EFM can also remove collective bargaining rights for public employees including teachers, firefighters, police, and busdrivers and can fire our elected officials or remove appointed ones.
There are eighteen “triggers” used to determine if a governmental entity needs an EFM. The qualifying factors, including “other factors undefined,” are at the “sole discretion” of the state treasurer. If even one criterion is met, the EFM could dissolve the government and take complete charge. According to Valentine and Pawli, the first 100 people trained to be Emergency Managers have all been from the private sector, including some high contributors to the governor’s 2010 campaign.
The atmosphere of the gathering was somewhat apocalyptic. One forum participant told of a growing suspicion that the takeovers have begun in the southwest corner of the state, i.e. the Benton Harbor, and will continue among the most desirable waterfront areas (Elberta being another target town), in order for officials to secure valuable water access and sell it off to cronies and private enterprise.
Some Benzie Democrats, including Ms. Valentine, have been promoting recall efforts; a petition class was recently held to educate voters on this part of the process. Recall initiatives are expensive for taxpayers, and a recall would require an enormous show of support from voters. The last successful recall effort of a state legislator was waged against state senator David Serotkin in 1983. According to the Detroit Free Press, about a dozen state officeholders are targeted for recall along with Snyder. The Committee to Recall Rick Snyder (formerly Michigan Citizens United) filed its petition in April and at post time they had 20,635 “likes” on Facebook. They’re seeking volunteers to gather petition signatures all over the state before the filing deadline, August 5.
For more information on your local government, check out the following websites:
http://www.michiganvotes.org (to see how your representatives voted)
http://www.legislature.mi.gov (to track and understand bills)
http://www.michigantruthsquad.com (a project of the Center for Michigan, and nonprofit self-described bipartisan “think and do” tank, to check information you’ve read and heard)