News Story

Government Employees Thrive In Epidemic; Small Business, Wage Earners Crushed

Increasingly rigorous enforcement by increasingly well-paid enforcers is a bad look for a state

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first COVID-19 lockdown last March, she said, “This is going to be hard, but we’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get through it together.”

That is not how Whitmer has governed during the pandemic. She has instead imposed extended lockdowns with increasingly complex and detailed restrictions on business and society, with impacts and costs falling unevenly.

These have been enforced with growing vigor by an army of state and local regulators who seek out and punish noncompliance, and not in the spirit of “we’re going to get through this together.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential has reported many examples of small business owners trying to avoid ruin while also complying with the state’s lockdown orders. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan workers are also still sidelined by official orders and restrictions as of the end of 2020.

There appears to be a discrepancy in this story, however: While the private sector has suffered during the pandemic, many government and public sector employees appear to have avoided those financial setbacks.

Michigan Capitol Confidential has been collecting recent payroll data from a number of local governments. What stands out are the outsized pay increases enjoyed by many government workers, even as many of them are involved in clamping an ever-tighter lid on local business and commerce.

The struggles of the Plymouth ROC Restaurant is one example of restaurants and bars in this state trying to avoid bankruptcy in an environment of lockdown orders.

The establishment has been charged by the state of Michigan for engaging in “an illegal occupation or illegal act upon the licensed premises.” The illegal act of attempted self-preservation was in providing service to customers in an outside tent with four walls in the middle of winter. Under the fine print of the governor’s orders, the tent is classified as “indoors,” with service prohibited.

The enforcement action was no casual happenstance either, and was instigated by local officials, not state ones, after a complaint was filed. John Buzuvis, director of community development for the city of Plymouth, visited the restaurant on Dec. 15 and Dec. 17. He took photos of the restaurant’s nonconforming tent. Those photos were used in the case against the restaurant. Buzuvis was asked to take the photos by Allen Cox, the city’s director of public safety, according to court documents.

Buzuvis had his gross pay increased from $78,555 in 2019 to $79,831 in 2020, a 1.6% increase. Cox saw his gross pay increase from 100,646 in 2019 to 104,313 in 2020, a 3.6% increase.

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.