Less benefits = more cops
In their radical reinvention of Michigan, governor Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled legislature have passed plenty of laws that have riled local governments, including expanding the power of emergency managers to take over failing cities. But you'd think that the new law making public employees pay at least 20 percent of the cost of their benefits and pensions would be a hit with local leaders, since it preempts a lot of the problems they've complained about in past union negotiations and arbitrations.
Not in Ann Arbor, says mayor John Hieftje. "It didn't really preempt the problems since it affects only people [working for the city] who don't have a contract. It may have attracted new urgency for people to sign a contract. But even there, I'm not sure how much it helped with the police, because we also had a helpful arbitrator who acted as a mediator."
Hieftje concedes "it's a good law for taxpayers. It'll save [the city] a million dollars a year in health care costs. And because it's reduced the amount we have to pay for benefits, we can have more police and firefighters." Between the new contracts and impending retirements, the mayor hopes the city will be able to hire eight to twelve new cops next year.
But that's all the mayor will concede. Asked if any other recent Lansing legislation has helped local governments, Hieftje replies with an emphatic "No! They've done lots of stuff, most of it harmful. Take the emergency manager law: I'm not sure that's even constitutional."
So what would Hieftje like to see from Lansing? "Full payment of the costs for fire protection for the university," he replies. "They never pay up to the degree of the contract. We're talking millions of dollars."
[Originally published in December, 2011.]