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Commentary: Legislative Republicans Get Rolled by Unions on Binding Arbitration

Did legislative Republicans just get rolled in “reforming” PA 312, the law that mandates binding arbitration when local government negotiations with fire and police unions reach an impasse?

Viewed from outside the Lansing “bubble” the answer is unequivocally affirmative: With majorities of 26-12 in the Senate and 63-47 in the House, why were Republicans even negotiating over a law that has possibly cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars since it was fist adopted? A law that even the original sponsor – the late Coleman Young I – condemned after he became mayor of Detroit, and reportedly once labeled “diabolical” for its damage to municipal finances?

Any reasonable person would conclude it should just be repealed, not modified.

Even from inside the Lansing bubble, evidence suggests they got rolled. Exhibit 1, this assessment of the House-passed bill from one of the government employee union bosses doing the rolling, as quoted in the Gongwer Michigan Report: "It doesn't do any real harm. We can live with it."

Meaning, for taxpayers it doesn’t do any good, either. Ditto for local government managers trying to balance a budgets. And double-ditto for public safety authorities created by more than one municipality, which currently aren't affected by the binding arbitration mandate, but will be if this "reform" becomes law.

Worse, the very modest level of reform that is contained in the bill may get even smaller: Despite garnering unanimous support from Democrats in the House – no fools they – the spokeswoman for the Senate Majority Leader hinted last week that even this level of kowtowing to government unions may not suffice for Senate Republicans, who have yet to vote on the deal.

This episode illustrates two things. First, Lansing exists in an alternative universe disconnected from the reality the rest of us inhabit. When lawmakers get boxed in for days and weeks with all those lawyers and special interest lobbyists, even good ones’ perceptions get skewed, and they lose touch with the real world.

Second, there’s a huge gap between who many legislative Republicans really are and who they portray themselves to be on the campaign trail, or back in their districts.

That’s an old problem and not unique to Michigan, yet for some reason this state does seem especially unable to field a legislative team that is ready, willing and able to enact real change and reform (this year, having a governor who is himself an outsider rather than a political careerist has helped). Here’s how columnist Dan Calebrese put it recently in

“It's easy to blame Democrats for Michigan's problems, but when you have a Republican Party that rarely makes a compelling case for itself, and rarely makes a difference when it does win, what do you expect will happen in your state?”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.