More News from the Conservative Legislation Lab

by Chris Savage, the owner of and primary contributor to Eclectablog. His work has been featured on The Rachel Maddow Show, The Ed Show, and Politics Nation. His writing has appeared in The Nation magazine and he contributes to Angry Black Lady Chronicles, The People's View, and is a front-page writer for Blogging for Michigan. Eclectablog was voted the 2010 "Diarist of the Year" at Daily Kos.

I have been following the outfall from the passage of Michigan's Public Act 4 of 2011—the Emergency Manager law—since it passed in March of last year. Public Act 4 was the third iteration of what used to be called the Emergency Financial Manager law in my state, and this new version went far beyond its predecessors in terms of giving nearly dictatorial control to one unelected individual with the ability to break contracts with unions and service providers, sell off public assets, set educational plans and even do away with local governments entirely.

Because it is seen by many, including me, as anti-democratic, union-busting, and a powerful vehicle for the privatization of as many public services and assets as possible, I have been fearful that this model would be taken to other states.

That time has now come. Last week, the Indiana legislature passed an Emergency Manager law for their state.

The legislation was first voted out of the Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy in mid-January. At the end of January, it passed the Senate with only a single "no" vote. And, finally, last week, it passed the Indiana House with not a single "no" vote.

Under the bill, (Senate Bill 355), should it be signed into law by Governor Mitch Daniels, Emergency Managers have the power to, among other things, do the following:
  • Review existing labor contracts
  • Renegotiate existing labor contracts and act as an agent of the political subdivision in collective bargaining.
  • Reduce or suspend salaries of the political subdivision's employees.
  • Enter into agreements with other political subdivisions for the provision of services.
The bill differs in a few significant ways from Michigan's Public Act 4. First, the "political subdivision" must request a designation as "distressed" by filing a petition with the Distressed Unit Appeal Board. In Michigan, a "financial emergency" can be called by the state itself and does not require the municipality or school district to ask first.

Second, it does not allow the Emergency Manager to dismiss the entire elected government or even eliminate the municipality or school district as Michigan's law does. However, it does allow them to "assume and exercise the authority and responsibilities of both the executive and the fiscal body of the political subdivision concerning the adoption, amendment, and enforcement of ordinances and resolutions relating to or affecting the fiscal stability of the political subdivision."

Finally, if passed into law, Indiana's Emergency Mangers would report to the chairperson of the Distressed Unit Appeal Board rather than the State Treasurer as in Michigan.

That said, Michigan's Emergency Manager law went through two previous incarnations before it ended up where it is today. If you are in Indiana, I highly suggest you follow this closely. It's a very slippery slope that can lead to anti-democratic disenfranchisement of the state's poorest residents. All it took in Michigan was for GOP majorities on both houses of the legislature and in the governor's office to make it more anti-democratic, anti-union, and pro-privatization.

I probably don't need to remind you that this is exactly the same political situation now in place in Indiana.

[NOTE: this post contains content previously posted at Eclectablog. You can follow Eclectablog on Twitter here and "like" the Eclectablog Facebook page here.]

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