Capitol News

August 2011

It’s been a slow legislative month as the House and Senate are taking a break in July and August. Each met officially on only one day in July and each plan a one day session in August. Some Committees have been meeting and some legislative work groups are meeting over the summer, but the latter meetings are not open to the public.

News of the Day

About 300 SERA members are now receiving News of the Day, a periodic e-mail about breaking news and a compilation of media stories concerning legislative news of interest to SERA members. If you would like to receive this e-mail, please write to giving your name and chapter.

Capitol News Briefing

If your chapter would like a Capitol News Briefing or a presentation on specific legislative topics at a chapter meeting, please submit a request to The cost to the chapter is round trip mileage from Lansing. A PowerPoint presentation is available if you have a blank wall or a screen.

Pension Tax on Michigan Supreme Court’s Agenda for September 7

On Wednesday, September 7, at 9:30 a.m., the Michigan Supreme Court will be hearing oral argument about the constitutionality of the pension tax. The name of the case is In Re Request for Advisory Opinion Regarding Constitutionality of 2011 PA 38, SC Docket # 143157.

The Attorney General’s Solicitor General John Bursch will be representing the proposition that the pension tax is constitutional. Deputy fSolicitor General Eric Restuccia will be representing the proposition that the pension tax is unconstitutional. Restuccia was the Solicitor General under former Attorney General Mike Cox.

Each will have 30 minutes to summarize their written briefs, rebut the other side’s arguments, and answer the Justices’ questions. In preparation for oral argument, each of the seven Justices and his or her staff will have read the parties’ briefs and friend of the court briefs from interested parties. In addition, the Justices’ staff conducts independent legal research and prepares comprehensive legal memoranda, analyzing the relevant law and the arguments made by the parties.

SERA Coordinating Council, Michigan Federation of Chapters of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, and AARP have submitted a joint friend of the court brief to help the court understand the issues from our point of view. Our brief was written by Dan McLellan, recently retired General Counsel for the Michigan Civil Service Commission. Look for a copy of our brief here on the SERA Web site at after August 10, the friend of the court brief filing date.

SERA, NARFE, and AARP Members Are Invited to Attend Oral Argument

Oral argument is open to the public. It will be held at the Michigan Hall of Justice, 925 West Ottawa Street, Lansing, Michigan 48915. The courtroom can hold about 125 people and there is an available conference room to view a broadcast of the proceedings. To enter the building, each visitor must show picture identification, sign in, acquire a name tag from the reception security clerk, and go through a metal detector. Seating is first-come, first-served. Because getting through security will take some time, we need to start the process at about 8:30 a.m. After oral argument you may want to visit the Hall of Justice Learning Center (museum) on the first floor.

The court has requested that MGTV broadcast the oral argument and it will likely be available for viewing through the Supreme Court’s Web site within a week.

Parking is available on nearby streets or in the parking lot east of the building. Cash or a credit card is needed to exit. Although the Hall of Justice can be seen from Martin Luther King Blvd, the entrance is on the east side facing the Capitol Building. Directions to the building and other information are available at the Michigan Supreme Court Web site at Contact or 517-351-7292 if you want to register to attend or have questions.

U of M Survey: Half of Local Officials Say State on Wrong Track

Half of the local government officials surveyed in Michigan say the state is generally on the wrong track, while 32 percent think the state is going the right way, a new University of Michigan poll says.

Democratic officials were most likely to be critical of the state's direction. But even among local Republican officials, fewer than half (46 percent) believe the state is going the right way, the poll says.

The statewide survey was conducted as part of the ongoing Michigan Public Policy Survey by U-M's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The press release about the report says "Local governments are key players in implementing state-level policy decisions, so this high level of concern about the state's direction among local officials should be on the radar for the governor and state legislators. Local officials know the conditions on the ground, where the policy rubber meets the road, so their views can provide important guidance to state policymakers. Ideally we would see a higher level of alignment in the views of our state and local policymakers," according to Brian Jacob, professor of public policy and director of CLOSUP.

In the first half of 2011, significant policy changes have reshaped the relationship between Michigan’s state and local governments. Major developments include the new emergency manager law and revenue sharing changes to incentivize local government reform favored by the Republican majority at the Capitol.

See the rest of the story at the Center’s Web site

MSU Survey: State Mood Declines as Economy Sputters

According to the latest results from the State of the State Survey conducted by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, Michigan residents showed a decline in optimism about Michigan’s future. In winter, 60 percent of those surveyed thought they would be better off a year from now. In the spring survey, that number fell dramatically to 47 percent.

The survey also showed that the approval ratings for Governor Rick Snyder fell significantly from the first assessment of his performance in the winter. Of those surveyed, just 31.5 percent thought he was doing a good or excellent job, while in the winter survey, 44.5 percent thought Mr. Snyder was doing a good or excellent job.

On a regional basis, Mr. Snyder got higher marks from the Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, where 39.1 percent thought the governor was doing a good or excellent job. He got his lowest approval from the Lansing area, with just 22 percent of capital area respondents saying he was doing a good job.

But Mr. Snyder got his biggest approvals from black respondents, of whom 44.2 percent said he was doing a good or excellent job, while just 31.8 percent of white respondents thought the same. Mr. Snyder also did slightly better with women, of whom 32.9 percent gave him good ratings. In contrast, just 30.1 percent of men gave him a good rating.

Optimism by respondents that things would be better a year from now had been growing in survey responses since 2006, even through some of the worst times in the economic recession of 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile, those who said they would be worse off a year from now rose to 32 percent from the 23 percent measured in winter.

The survey is done on a quarterly basis since the early 1990s and included 947 respondents, with an error rate of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. See for the report and a presentation about the results, including Michigan’s ratings of President Barack Obama.

Other News

Civil Service Commissioner Andrew Abood, whose term was scheduled to end December 31, 2012, has resigned from the Commission. This will give Governor Snyder his first opportunity to appoint someone to fill out the remainder of Abood’s appointment. Abood said he had accomplished his two goals, domestic partner benefits and challenging the 3% contribution required by statute but not approved by the Commission. Remaining on the CSC are Chair Thomas (Mac) Wardrop, Robert Swanson, and Chuck Blockett.

SB 7 (H-6), the bill that would prohibit public employers from paying more than 80% of health care premiums or more than certain hard cap amounts similar to the private sector, is in conference committee now with more changes in store for it. It may be taken up in the Senate at its August 24 session according to MIRS Capitol Report. Several school districts are delaying collective bargaining pending the legislation’s enactment. Recall that SERA was successful in getting public retiree health care benefits excluded from this bill. See the updated July 14 analysis of the latest iteration of the bill at

In keeping with SB 7, House Speaker Jase Bolger announced that legislators and House employees’ health care insurance would be changing effective October 1. House employees can choose between a PPO with 10 percent co-pay, a PPO with 20 percent co-pay, an HMO with 10 percent co-pay, and a health savings account with no premium, but it is a high-deductible, high co-pay plan according to a news release.

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts has announced that he was granted authority by State Treasurer Andy Dillon to open up union contracts as a way to cut costs. There will be a 10 percent wage cut for all 10,000 employees and a new 80/20 health care benefits arrangement designed to save $81.8 million for a district that has $327 million in debt. Roberts says he met with union representatives on 45 occasions but was not able to get them to agree to voluntary concessions.

Recall Update — The attempt to recall Governor Rick Snyder announced that it had failed to gather enough signatures by the deadline for the November ballot. See for the latest news on that effort.

Signatures to recall Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc, Genesee County) were the only ones filed by the deadline for the November ballot though 23 legislative recalls were in process. The Secretary of State will need to verify that sufficient registered voters signed the petitions to put the recall on the November ballot.

The recall effort directed at Rep. Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton, Lenawee County) announced it had sufficient signatures, but the person with the box of petitions had a family emergency and was unable to drive to Lansing by the deadline on Friday, August 5.

Signatures filed later this fall will have recall questions posed on the February 28 ballot, which is the same date as the Republican presidential primary, making a recall of a Republican official improbable.

HB 4701 Update — SERA Coordinating Council Chair Bob Kopasz and I met with Rep. Ken Goike (R- Ray Township, Macomb County), a member of the House Appropriations Committee at his request concerning our testimony on HB 4701 and 4702. These bills would require (1) active defined benefit state employees (Tier 1) to contribute 4% toward their pension or be placed in the less desirable defined contribution retirement plan (Tier 2); (2) end retiree health care benefits for future Tier 2 active employees and (3) monetize the current value of Tier 2 employee’s vested retiree health care benefit at such a low amount that it will ensure that few could retire before becoming Medicare eligible. The bills also end counting accrued overtime in final average compensation.

Rep. Goike said our testimony was the only one that offered alternatives, such as pre-funding or bonding, and he wanted to discuss options. See our testimony or the House Fiscal Agency analysis of the bills at

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail

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