Blog Posts For The Week Of May 18, 2016 Through May 24, 2016

Roads Redux On DPS As House GOP Squeezes Governor, Senate
By Zachary Gorchow

Posted: May, 24 2016 2:10 PM

House Republicans are using the same tactic that worked so well for them on the road funding debate with the discussions on overhauling K-12 public education in Detroit.

On roads, Governor Rick Snyder wanted $1.2 billion in new revenues. The Republican-led Senate passed a plan with about $800 million in new revenue, and Mr. Snyder embraced it. But then majority Republicans passed a plan with $600 million in new revenue, and it was clear Mr. Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) were not happy.

Yes, the plan contained a promise of eventually pulling $600 million out of the General Fund in future years to bring the new commitment to $1.2 billion, but that looked shaky then and feels even more so in the wake of the Flint water crisis, Detroit Public Schools financial crisis and revenues for the 2016-17 fiscal year falling short of projections.

But the conservative House Republican majority caucus was adamant that it could approve no more than $600 million in new revenue. It hung tough and eventually Mr. Snyder and Mr. Meekhof concluded something was better than nothing and agreed to the basic contours of the House plan.

Now Mr. Snyder has requested, and the Senate has passed, a bailout for DPS with $715 million in funding over 10 years to retire the district’s crippling debt and assist the district that would replace DPS with transitional costs like critical infrastructure needs. The Senate also included a Snyder request for a new Detroit Education Commission that would have siting authority for all new public schools in the city, including charter schools.

The House has approved the funding to retire debt, but instead approved $33 million instead of the $200 million passed by the Senate for transitional costs. And it omitted the DEC with Republicans saying creating a DEC would be tantamount to declaring war on charter schools. They have questioned the need for the $200 million.

House Republicans are in a good spot strategically on this one, just like roads.

Absent a solution, DPS will start defaulting on its obligations in July. Just like roads, they can force the governor and Mr. Meekhof to choose between something or nothing. Perhaps they will have to concede $33 million is not enough, given the Department of Treasury’s analysis that DPS will run out of money in August under that plan. But it’s easy to see how House Republicans could declare victory if they can get a number smaller than $200 million and no DEC.

Mr. Snyder has always said his priority on DPS is to split up the district so that DPS exists only to retire the debt and a new district, debt-free, is created to run educational operations. He backs a DEC, but has made it clear it’s not mandatory.

So it seems likely that, provided enough money is there to keep the new Detroit Community School District financially sound, he would support a plan with no DEC.

The question is the Senate.

Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) won considerable plaudits from Democrats for his outreach and putting together a plan that passed with bipartisan support. Mr. Meekhof has strongly backed Mr. Hansen.

Neither has said a DEC is a must, but it’s also clear both think a solution that has the best chance of working is one with buy-in from local officials and Detroiters, not one foisted upon them by the Legislature. Mr. Meekhof could likely pull together the votes to pass a plan with support only from Republicans if he had to do so, but it would be an ugly scene in the Senate if it goes that way and leave in question whether the Detroit officials charged with implementing the changes actually believe they will work.

The closer July 1, the date when DPS will run out of money absent an overhaul, gets, the more pressure for a deal. Is taking action contrary to what their usual allies in the charter school industry want a line in the sand issue for Mr. Meekhof? Surely that is a question House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and his caucus have pondered extensively.

So will this end as the road debate did, with the House Republicans getting their way? Or is there a card Mr. Meekhof could yet play to shift the dynamic and put the House GOP in a tougher spot and avoid another high-stakes negotiation concluding as the roads one did. If Mr. Meekhof has a, er, trump card, it’s getting close to the time to play it.

Old Petition Signature Bill Brings Back IE Debate
By Alethia Kasben
Staff Writer

Posted: May, 23 2016 5:05 PM

The majority party in the House adopting legislation without having two-thirds of the chamber in support has long been a dramatic issue and was brought back to the forefront last week when legislation put a strict 180-day limit on signatures collected for ballot initiatives.

Democrats opposed the bill (SB 776*), which would prohibit petition signatures collected outside of a 180-day window from being counted by the state. Under current law there is a process to revive old signatures and some groups working to get on the 2016 ballot are pushing to ease the process.

When the bill was reported from the House Elections Committee, an amendment was adopted so the policy would not take effect until 2017, and those collecting signatures now would be unaffected.

But the House Republicans did not adopt that amendment, and the bill cleared the chamber with immediate effect although Democrats attempted to put up a parliamentary fight. Some watched session last Wednesday said Rep. Tom Leonard III (R-DeWitt Township), who was presiding over the House at the time, did not properly gavel the immediate effect order.

However, House Clerk Gary Randall told me he did last week. And now, with the archived videos of House session, everyone can watch for themselves.

Indeed, when watching the immediate effect motion (at 1 hour and 42 minutes in) Mr. Leonard starts to go through the normal spiel where the presiding officer asks all those in favor to rise, but then as House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) shouts point of order, Mr. Leonard bangs the gavel. But he never said “immediate effect is ordered.”

If a record roll call vote had taken, the immediate effect motion would have failed to garner a two-thirds majority of the chamber. It takes 73 votes, and with 63 Republican members and no Democratic support, the Republicans would have been short. But the courts have ruled that on a voice vote like last week’s, two-thirds of the House is whatever the presiding officer says it is.

The fight concerning the immediate effect process has not gotten as much attention this term as it has in the past because many bills are passed with an effective date of 90 days after the bill has been filed with the Office of the Great Seal following the governor’s signature. And controversial legislation has not necessarily needed immediate effect this term.

And even if Mr. Leonard had made a mistake when presiding last Wednesday, it would not make much of a difference, as the House Republicans could simply request the bill back and gavel through immediate effect, still without the support of the Democrats.

The Coming Redistricting War. It’s Not Too Late To Get Ready
By John Lindstrom

Posted: May, 20 2016 4:45 PM

Population estimates of Michigan’s and the nation’s metropolitan and micropolitan (what a word) areas were released on Thursday, and in our always looking-for-the-next-election political climate, there are potential implications for the elections of (steady now) 2022 to 2030.

Because census numbers mean redistricting, and while the estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau are not those that will set off the scrambling and howling that will all be part of the reapportionment fight in 2021, they offer some interesting hints at what could be driving districting decisions just five years from now.

First, while it is nice that Michigan has gained some 45,000 residents since 2010 and now has an estimated population of 9.922 million, that will not save us from losing at least one member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Unless some very strange situations occur to boost Michigan’s population by say 1 million people in the next four years (which will boost problems of land use, housing, transportation, schools and many others in quick order), we must steel ourselves to the inevitable loss of one more member of Congress. And steel ourselves to the inevitable fight over the consolidation of districts.

Beyond that obvious situation, though, the census figures offer some intriguing bits of information that could and likely will play a hand in the redistricting effort.

One is the growth of some cities, and where that growth is focused. Primarily, that growth is in cities and metro areas with major industries and growing industries, as well as cities with big universities.

Consider Ann Arbor, which has seen its population grow by some 4,000 people since 2010. The Lansing-East Lansing area has grown by nearly 700 people. Kalamazoo has grown by more than 1,000. Mount Pleasant has seen much smaller growth, but growth still.

Other cities, such as Jackson, Saginaw and Flint, have seen declines, but over the years the declines have grown less pronounced.

Many of these are areas that trend Democratic. But some of that potential effect would be offset by growth in suburban areas that trend Republican. Grand Rapids has grown by some 7,000 people in five years, and it is more Democratic in heavily Republican Kent County. But Kentwood, definitely Republican, has grown by almost 3,000 people itself in the same time frame.

The Metro Detroit area continues to grow, to 4.3 million, even though Detroit itself lost population. But the pace of Detroit’s loss slowed dramatically from 2014 to 2015. If the city continues to see the development it has enjoyed in the last several years, it is conceivable the city could actually grow slightly in population in the next several years. If it does, that begins to put some new pressures on how district lines are drawn.

And one trend that seems to show no sign of abating is declining population in mostly rural areas, areas that tend to vote Republican.

Beyond what these numbers mean in the assured fight over redistricting under the current law, they also emphasize to both parties how critical the 2018 election will be. Democrats will fight even harder in that race to win control of at least one part of state government to have some hand in district drawing.

Also, while advocates for changing Michigan’s redistricting system have ruled out an election effort in 2016, what might the changing population dynamics of the state say about their efforts in 2018 or 2020?

Right-To-Work Fallout Continues
By Christopher Klaver
Staff Writer

Posted: May, 19 2016 12:31 PM

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Michigan Education Association have been trading barbs, and legal complaints, for some time, and it appears that a ruling that the union has to allow members to resign any time they want was not the end of those exchanges.

The Mackinac Center announced another Employment Relations Commission complaint against the union Wednesday, arguing it still was not allowing members to resign.

Ronald Robinson, a science teacher at Pioneer High School, said he submitted his resignation letter, and even during the August resignation period that MERC has ruled violates the state’s new right-to-work law, but is still being sent bills for agency fees by his local union.

This time, the test is what constitutes a new contract. The unions, both MEA and the Ann Arbor Education Association, argue that the provision requiring members to remain members of the union or to pay an agency fee to cover bargaining costs remained in place until January, when the contract expired. The law allowed the so-called union security provision to remain until the contract expired.

But Mackinac Center is arguing, on Mr. Robinson’s behalf, that the contract was revised enough in 2014 and 2015 that it counts as a new agreement, making the union security provision unenforceable.

So the MERC can once again expect to hear the two sides arguing.

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