Wednesday, April 14, 2010

News from Lansing from a person "other than the MEA"

News from Lansing that I have received through a lobbyist source OTHER than the MEA - This is very interesting and quite informative, but might make your blood boil! (from Terese)
Senate To Vote On Barebones Retirement Plan
Senate Republicans are scaling back teacher and public employee retirement plans in an effort to pass something this week, despite continued opposition from the Michigan Education Association (MEA).
When asked what could be done to bring the MEA on board, a frustrated Sen. Jud GILBERT (R-Algonac) deadpanned, "A gun."

MEA spokesman Doug PRATT confirmed that the union doesn't back the new plan. MIRS asked what would have to change to garner the MEA's support.

"For starters, it would have to include some sort of positive incentive for teachers to retire, which the Senate stripped out," Pratt said.

He added that making teachers contribute to the retirement system "simply wasn't a good solution to the state's structural problem." Pratt said that former Gov. John ENGLER raided the system to fund his tax cuts and it wasn't fair for teachers to have to pick up the tab.

"This is another gimmick, another game Lansing is trying to play to balance the budget," Pratt said.

Sen. Mark JANSEN (R-Gaines Twp.) has met with local MEA members, who he says understand that changes need to be made to the public retirement system, even if the union leadership does not.

Jansen and Gilbert, sponsors of SB 1126 and SB 1127, respectively, told reporters today that the substitutes will raise $211 million for the School Aid Fund (SAF) -- about three-quarters of the original proposal.

MIRS asked if that meant a per-pupil cut would be needed in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 to balance the School Aid Fund. Savings from the retirement plan in the Senate-passed K-12 budget were supposed to offset a $118 per-student cut.

"There's been no discussion of how to handle a per-pupil cut," Gilbert said.

Jansen said the goal was to come as "close as possible" to the targets in the K-12 budget.

As MIRS reported Monday, lawmakers and Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM administration officials have spent spring break hashing through a compromise after the Senate lacked the votes last month to take up legislation on the floor (See "Senate A 'Smidgen' Closer On Retirement," 4/12/10). The House has taken no action.

Gilbert said the 30-year cap on benefits is gone in the "greatly scaled-back" substitutes, but the 1.5 multiplier will stay. Before spring break, Republicans offered the Governor's original plan, a 1.6 multiplier, to entice Democrats, but that failed.

Public employees will not have to kick in for their dental and vision -- another sticking point -- but they will be responsible for a 3-percent contribution. Jansen said he believes these reforms are enough to help stabilize the retirement system and aid local districts, which will no longer be responsible for 3 percent of the costs."It's a step in the right direction," he said. "We're asking people to help out in bad economic times."

Gilbert said he believes they are "close" in getting three or four necessary votes from Republicans to pass legislation on Wednesday or Thursday, although he does not expect the caucus to unanimously support it. Granholm has set a deadline by the end of the week.

MIRS asked Granholm's office if her administration had rounded up any Democratic votes ."Clearly, we are expecting action in the Senate this week on the retirement plan," Press Secretary Liz BOYD said. "Once the Senate acts, we look forward to working with the House to move the bills to the Governor's desk. "The senators were asked if it was difficult to work on the retirement plans the Governor proposed, as she was on an economic development mission to Europe. "I guess we did it without her," Jansen said. "I take that back. (Budget Director) Bob EMERSON was a great help in the process." Boyd said that Granholm was only gone for three session days -- today, Wednesday and Thursday. She also noted that the Governor proposed the retirement plan in her Feb. 11 budget address and said the Legislature has not taken action. She also noted that as budget director, Emerson is the Governor's "point person" on the budget. "To say the Governor hasn't been part of the process is ludicrous," Boyd said. "It's her proposal. "Emerson Tries To Sell Senate D's State Budget Director Bob EMERSON briefed the Senate Democratic caucus on Tuesday, hoping to round up some votes for the Governor's program to lure 9,000 state civil servants and 39,000 teachers into retirement.

Commenting on the emerging agreement with the Senate Republicans, Emerson confessed, "it doesn't do all that we suggested," but he is pleased with the direction the talks are taking, even though some Democrats are not. Sen. Gretchen WHITMER (D-East Lansing) said Emerson did not lay out all of the details, but did confirm that the vision and dental coverage for retirees would be saved. Until she sees all the details, she said she remains a "no vote" on the package. Even though the Governor originally proposed the elimination of those benefits, Emerson said they were a "small part of the savings" and therefore not critical to the overall savings that comes from the 3 percent contribution retirees will have to make.

Some Democrats prefer to raise new dollars to avoid the retirements and cost cutting measures but Emerson concludes, "It's clear to me that we are not going to raise enough revenue to fix this and leave everything the way it was . . . Everyone is going to have to make sacrifices" and as a former labor union member, Emerson said he understands the impact this will have on employees but this "has to be done for the health of the system" he added.