In an extreme move to take away power of local governments, the Michigan Senate voted yesterday to allow the appointment of so-called emergency financial managers to take control of cities and school districts that the newly elected Republican governor in the state unilaterally declares to be "financial emergencies."
The new bill was passed 26-12 by the Republican-controlled Senate in Lansing and allows newly-appointed financial managers a broad range of powers over local governments. Newly elected Republican Governor Rick Snyder's new budget bill slashes aid to local governments and many towns are expected to fall into the financial emergency zone as a result. Governor Snyder will then appoint financial managers to oversee these towns.
Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer spoke on behalf of the Senate's democrats, calling the bill an "unfair and unjust power grab."
"This bill represents bigger government, more bureaucrats (and) less accountability and less transparency," said Whitmer.
Much of the attention in wire stories and state media outlets has focused on the potential loss of union bargaining rights and this related extreme measure by Snyder has flown under the radar screen. The union-busting efforts are only one part of the potential privatization of local governments in Michigan.
Mirroring the intense debates started in Wisconsin, hundreds of union members protested before the vote, fearing a Wisconsin and Ohio-type crack-down on union bargaining rights and the implementation of the "Right to Work" initiative, which would limit labor agreements. It was unclear though how much the union protesters knew of the Governor's bid to take away local governments' powers and accountability as well.
The authorized financial managers will be given a slew of all-encompassing powers that The Nation's Naomi Klein, speaking on the Rachel Maddow show, says are an effort to privatize (corporatize) public governance.
"The first stage is to consolidate power, but that's not the end goal. That [the end goal] is to auction off the state."
The bill was passed first in Michigan's Congress and will now await some changes in wording before being sent to Snyder's desk for his signature. After the bill is put in effect, the financial managers will be allowed to "reject, modify or terminate the terms of an existing contract...or a collective bargaining agreement."
They will also be able to "suspend or dismiss local officials, "disincorporate of dissolve entire city governments" and "recommend...that a school district be reorganized with one or more contiguous districts."
As with Wisconsin, Ohio, and 14 other states that are fighting similar battles to stave off the destruction of local government starting with the dissolution of union rights, the workers who protested in Lansing are aware of the consequences of such action.
Some supporters claim union restrictions will allow non-union workers to compete in some industries, but critics of the bill are worried that some politicians are going too far by giving unchecked powers to a corporation or person chosen by the governor.
According to Naomi Klein, the unions are the backbone of the modern democratic process.
"Unions are the ones that fight the privatization of the school systems and water and energy systems. And there is a lot of money to be made in these croonie deals that can be rammed through when you have all that power consolidated in the Governor's office."