Opinion Piece: Hey Lansing, are you pissed off yet?!

I know I sure am. Being that we live right in the midst of all the state-wide action, politically that is, I am sure you have all had the chance to witness, or at least hear about, one of the many rallies that have been taking place on the steps of our capitol. You may be asking yourself, “Why is there suddenly so much commotion around our capitol city?”. Well, I am going to take the opportunity to break it down for you all in the hopes that if you are not yet pissed off about the direction our state is taking, you will be by the end of this post.

First off, let’s talk unions. There has been a lot of news lately about the fight against unions in Wisconisin, but not many people realize that there is a fight taking place right now in our capitol building. This fight here in Michigan is that of the Emergency Manager Bills and it will essentially recast Emergency Financial Managers as Emergency Managers and give them unprecedented new power to fire elected officials, dissolve labor contracts and reorganize or dissolve cities and school districts. This bill lays out no guidelines as to how these new managers can carry out this power, and basically nullifies the people’s vote by allowing the managers to remove an elected official from office without any checks or balances, not to mention strip union’s of collective bargaining rights. Now, some may say that in this day and age, with the established five day work week, eight hour work day, minimum wage and “safe” working conditions, we do not need the power of unions. However, I believe that could not be further from the truth. Sure, things are a lot better than they were decades ago, working condition-wise, but that is only because of the fact that unions hold the management responsible for maintaining this. If things were to take a turn for the worse, workers have the ability to go on strike and demand that their concerns be heard. The workers are able to negotiate with management in good faith for what they believe they deserve and both sides are able to come to a compromise. But this is all beside the point, in my opinion, becuase collective bargaining rights are not costing the state all that much money. In fact, I do not see how eliminating them is going to help get us out of the massive debt we face. I do see the connection between stripping unions of bargaining rights and weakening the Democratic Party, however. See, many of the democrats get their financial backing from unions when it comes to election campaigns. Weakening the unions will lead to a direct hit in the capabilities of democrats to successfully run election campaigns, especially in this day of post United Citizens decision. (Text of each of the bills in this package can be found here: 4214, 4215, 4216, 4217, 4218, 4246)

Next, let’s take a look at the proposed legislation to elimiate the Earned Income Tax Credit, more commonly referred to as EITC. Here is the thing about the EITC: this tax credit is only given to those working families in need. Not to mention, it creates incentive for individuals to work and puts money quickly back into circulation, because the money is going to those who actually need it. Eliminating this credit will raise taxes on working families and push 25,000 Michiganders into poverty (including 14,000 children). A 2006 study by the Anderson Economic Group concluded that $1 of the credit given to taxpayers generated $1.67 in economic activity — almost all of it spent in Michigan. Eliminating the tax credit will push an estimated 14,000 children into poverty, according to the Michigan League for Human Services. It seems to me that this is another direct hit on the working class. But what about the tax breaks for the large corporations you ask? Those will remain.

Let’s move on to the  “support our law enforcement and safe neighborhoods act”, House Bill 4305, or in my opinion, the “Do I look legal?” legislation. This Arizona-like legislation would require government agencies to verify the immigration status of people older than 18 years of age who apply for federal, state or local public benefits. While some may argue that this legislation in fact is protecting us from exploitation of public services by “illegals”, many immigrant rights groups feel it will create a climate of fear and division, to which I would agree. This bill basically makes it acceptable to question someone’s status as a citizen based on their appearance and will create suspicion of all immigrants in our state; immigrants who are citizens and contribute to our economy and the general prosperity of Michigan. According to a recent report by the Michigan League of Human Services, it is estimated that if the bill became law the state would lose $3.8 billion, and hurt industries that only tend to draw undocumented workers.

Lastly, let’s discuss how the  Michigan Senate approved a resolution on Wednesday to overturn a decision earlier this year by the Civil Service Commission to make health care benefits available to live-in partners of about 33,000 state employees. That’s right folks, after just a few months as a majority, the Republican run Senate has set our state backwards, treating those in same-sex partnerships as second class citizens. According to the Lansing State Journal,

Snyder and Republicans in the Legislature argued that the cost of the additional coverage, estimated at $6 million-$8 million a year, was unaffordable given the state’s current circumstances.

Sure, our state is in some serious debt. And yes, we need to make cuts. But my question remains: why are all the cuts being made against the groups of Michiganders who are the worst off? Why are we targeting the working class? The unions? The LGBTIQ and Immigrant communities? It does not make any sense to me. The way I see it, all of these legislative proposals, under the guise of pulling the state out of debt, do not actually save us any money! For the amount of money saved, it would seem that that much- or more- will be lost down the line. In fact, what these proposals do are weaken the working class and unions, violate human rights, and steer our state towards a very dangerous path.

So, I ask you, Lansing, are you pissed off yet?! And if so, what can be done?!

Well, the first thing that we should all be doing is writing and calling our representatives. Let them know that they represent US. We need to be following their votes on pieces of legislation and holding them accountable to make decisions that reflect what their constituants want, not decisions that will further support their personal agenda. And if our representatives disagree, we must continue to let them know that is not acceptable. And then, we vote them out of office. (Don’t know who represents you or how to contact them? Look here for a great tool for finding your state representative by district number, county and/or zip code!)

But until then, let’s flood their office with letters and phone calls! And even better, let’s turn out in droves at the capitol to show our elected officials that the direction our state is headed in is not the direction we want!

A good start would be to show up at next week’s “It’s Not Fair Rally! Speak Out!” being put on by the Michigan League for Human Services and Michigan AARP.

Date: Tuesday, March 15th

Time: 11 a.m.- 1 p.m.

Location:  State Capitol Building, east steps

I hope to see many of you next week at the Rally!