My First 100 Days
In these modern times we have seen technological advancements that not too long ago could only be captured in the world’s most creative minds. These changes to our technology have altered our lifestyles and how we manage our routine day-to-day affairs. This is just one of many examples of how far we have advanced in our society. We have all adapted to emails, cell phones, the Internet and online shopping. Change is inevitable and“the only constant to life is change.” And with that change arrives a realization of where we are at that present time in our life.
It is for this reason that I submit to you a 100 day report on the serious changes within our state government. In this report, I will highlight issues such as Emergency Financial Managers, Individual Item Pricing, and the Governor’s proposed budget.
EMERGENCY FINANCIAL MANAGER (EFM) LEGISLATION
As many of you have heard, the Governor signed into law the Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) bills last month. An Emergency Financial Manager could be placed in a municipality or school district that is struggling financially. The EFM would then have the power to:
- Take over a pension board only if a pension fund is less than 80% funded. Once an EFM takes over a pension board they could get rid of the board and move the pension to the Municipal Employee Retirement System (MERS);
- Cancel/change terms of any contract;
- Void any ordinance;
- Relieve local officials of pay and responsibilities;
- Prohibit employees from having access to their office and their email;
- Take control of academics and close school buildings;
- Order millage elections;
- Consolidate and eliminate departments;
- Recommend that a municipality merge with another municipality;
- Sell property, including parks; and
- Eliminate busing (but not for children receiving special education services) and sports in a school district.
Other aspects of the new law include:
- Before the EFM leaves, they are required to put in place a two-year budget that the locals cannot change;
- There is no limit on the pay of an EFM;
- The EFM not only has immunity for the actions they take, but if they are sued the citizens must pay for their legal defense;
- The citizens also must pay for an EFM’s salary, professional liability, workers compensation, and vehicle insurance;
- There are no triggers that would cause an end of service to an EFM; they serve at the pleasure of the State Treasurer (Andy Dillon);
- An EFM signs a contract with the State Treasurer and the contract must be posted on the Treasurer’s website (but citizens are not allowed to make any changes to the contract); and
- Any collective bargaining agreement must include a clause that states “if an EFM is in place they realize that their contract can be null and void.”
I spoke out against these bills in a furious debate on the House floor along with my Democratic colleagues from Detroit and other districts. I stood up against these bills because of what I called the “Dismantling of our Democracy.” An EFM is a modern day dictator in the United States of America. Like you, I don’t always agree with the decisions of our elected officials; however, undermining democracy is not a viable option to produce a desired result in government management. I also stood up against the EFM bills because I support organized labor. An EFM within the blink of an eye can destroy years of collective bargaining agreements simply because they want to remove organized labor from the discussion.
Moreover, as an American of Puerto Rican descent who served in my beloved United States Navy, I opposed this act of hostility on the grounds that it largely affects communities of color and urban areas throughout our state i.e. Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Muskegon, Saginaw, Inkster, etc. This is yet another big government solution for a local unit of government that is being set up to fail by our state.
ITEM PRICING LEGISLATION
Earlier this year the Republicans pushed a bill that would repeal an important consumer protection. The House voted 69 to 41 to repeal the Item Pricing Law that has protected us since the 1970’s. As your State Representative, I voted NO. Those in favor of the change argued that the item pricing law was costing Michigan consumers an amazing $2.2 billion each year in extra costs. This is based on one study done 10 years ago comparing prices in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. I did not believe the claims made in this study and asked for the facts and figures for our own state of Michigan. I was told that there is no such study comparing item prices in Michigan with any other state.
I took it upon myself to conduct my own study. From February 11 through February 13, I visited two different well known large grocery stores in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. Using the original 165 item grocery list from the New York study, I compared real prices in our state with others. If the Governor was right, the prices in Michigan should have been 8 percent higher than in Ohio and Indiana. In reality, after comparing over 700 items, I discovered that there was not one penny extra cost for the item pricing law in Michigan. Not one single penny. The claim of more than $2 billion in extra costs was a falsehood. In fact, the prices in Michigan were about 1/2 of one percent cheaper than the other two states.
As your State Representative it is my job to conduct my own research and not take anyone’s word for it. I proved the Governor’s claims to be false. I thought that of all people, especially one who appreciated the importance of being a “data-driven government,” that our Governor would have at least considered my findings. No! Again, The Republican response was ‘don’t confuse people with the facts’ as it only gets in the way of their agenda.
THE STATE BUDGET
Presently, we are debating our state budget. Understandably, we are facing serious challenges and making hard decisions about how we spend taxpayer money. In the Governor’s proposed budget he intends to tax the pensions of our retirees, cut investments to education and cut revenue sharing to our cities. Our Governor desires this course of action while at the same time proposing a $1.8 billion dollar tax cut to business. Where is the shared sacrifice?
This is a blatant attack on the middle class and families who are working harder and longer hours while making less, an attack on students who are struggling with mounting student loan debt and rising tuition costs, and an attack on retirees who live on fixed incomes and cannot afford serious fluctuations to their financial arrangements.
I disagree with the Governor’s budget proposal because I fail to recognize how it produces jobs, stabilizes our economy, and addresses our long term structural deficit. I especially take exception to the budget proposal because of the reductions to education. Michigan’s children are our largest investment and if we fail to believe in them today, how will they believe in themselves tomorrow?
In spite of my disagreements with the Governor and our Republican-controlled Legislature I still hope that my legislative priorities will be realized. When I sought public office I explained to citizens that we are only 1 of 4 states that prioritizes prison spending over education spending. We spend much more locking people up that we spend educating each of our children. That’s an absolute disgrace! Over the course of the last 3 months I have had several conversations with political leaders throughout Southeast Michigan, members of the community, leaders from organized labor, and Republicans about my goals.
I am excited to announce that within a few weeks I will be introducing legislation that addresses our budget issues with the Corrections Department and seeks to find alternative ways of dealing with offenders in our society. As details of my legislation emerge I will make you aware of the particulars.
My commitment to community service to the 10th District is the bedrock of my service. I attend monthly community meetings throughout the 10th district so residents can speak with me and I can provide them with frequent updates on the nature of state government. I hold coffee hours on the first Monday and Friday of every month at various locations as well. Every week I send e-mail blasts with the latest information on votes and policy changes that affect your lives.
In closing of this 100 day report I would like to say that serving you is an honor that I work hard to earn every day. As a legislator I urge my colleagues to be mindful of the decisions we make on behalf of the citizens, because the decisions we make will determine the future of our grandchildren.
Can these decisions and actions be changed later? It is possible, but with years and years of work. But in those years we will become something different because life changes. We will never be who we are today ever again. The promise and potential of Michigan and Detroit is very fragile. The hardest part of change is that it starts before we realize it. And we realize it when we are a dozen decisions into it already … we have no more lifeguards … the decisions we make belong to us, and will be ours forever.