Let me help you skip to the end of this story. Yes, of course, Michigan will kill pensions for teachers.
And I’ll tell you why. Gov. Rick Snyder wants the state budget done. And when push comes to shove, he rarely fights for the right thing. All you have to do is remember how he’s folded on Right to Work, unnecessary abortion restrictions and the anti-LGBT adoption law. And for good measure, consider how much Snyder has tried to ingratiate himself to President Donald Trump, who’s only delighted in humiliating the guv because he made a big show of being too principled to endorse him.
Then there’s the budget. The first thing you have to know is that ending the pension system is not critical to passing next year’s budget. It’s not going to save us money. To the contrary, the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency says it could cost us $46.2 billion (billion with a “B”) over 40 years to shutter the system.
So using the budget as cover is just about legislative leaders exercising leverage. They considered springing the pension issue during the lame duck session last December, when Republicans were totally pumped up after their big electoral win.
But you’ve got to hand it to Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) and company. Holding the budget hostage over this issue that so delights their donors is a great idea from a purely political standpoint.
Our CPA governor can’t stand that. You see, Snyder is a businessman. He is a strong fiscal steward, unlike that liberal woman he preceded (Jennifer Granholm, in case you’re interested), and the budget has always been done by early June because of the great Michigan Comeback (and the fact that we no longer have divided government, so Republicans can basically do whatever they want).
Now Snyder is having a sad because it is already almost mid-June and the budget is still not on his desk. Republican legislators usually like playing ball on this because it’s summer and who wants to work during the few months when Michigan weather is actually tolerable?
But Snyder is a lame duck governor and a very unpopular one at that. So this is an excellent time for conservative Republicans to push him on an issue that is not, we should stress, critical to the budget’s passage. But it’s on the wish list of right-wing groups like Americans for Prosperity-Michigan and part of the education reform lobby’s all-out assault on teachers and public education.
So everyone’s a winner. I mean, except Michigan teachers, whose salaries are stagnating. And enrollment in teacher prep programs has dropped precipitously, a trend that’s only likely to accelerate.
Why? Since Snyder has took office, he’s made it a fairly miserable experience to be a teacher. Budget cuts, charter school expansion and attacks on teacher tenure make conservative interest groups happy. But talk to some parents. You’d be hard-pressed to find many who think their students are blossoming in these conditions, even in excellent public school districts like Okemos, where I reside.
And believe it or not, most teachers care deeply about their students. That’s the reason why they buy school supplies with their own money and stay up late grading papers. They deserve pay and benefits commensurate with their status as educated professionals. If I had my way, teachers would make at least what the average lobbyist in Lansing does.
But let’s get real. Anti-intellectualism is all the rage in a Republican Party led by Trump. His education secretary, big GOP donor Betsy DeVos, is moving heaven and earth to privatize more of our educational system. And teachers’ unions are a big bulwark for Democrats.
So teachers will probably lose this fight in Michigan and many others on a national scale.
If you read history, societies that don’t value education and vilify intellectuals tend to be subjected to some pretty terrible things. Luckily for us, school history requirements will probably soon be replaced by watching reruns of “The Apprentice,” so everything will turn out swell.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.