Politics
11:04 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Local Control and Health Care

As you may know by now, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill  yesterday limiting how much local governments and schools can spend to provide health care for their employees.

The new law, which Governor Snyder is expected to sign, says local governments can contribute a maximum of fifty-five hundred dollars an employee, or fifteen thousand dollars a family.

Their only other option is to split health coverage cost with the employees, as long as the workers pay at least twenty percent.

Local governments can opt out of these requirements, but it won’t be easy. They’d have to do so by a two-thirds vote of their council or school board, and take a new vote every year.

Interestingly, this won’t apply to state workers, or those who work for public colleges and universities. The Republican majority tried to extend the health care cap to them, but they needed a two-thirds vote to do so, and fell way short in the lower house.

There was almost no bipartisanship, by the way, in the vote to limit local government health care costs. Virtually all Republicans voted to do so; only one Democrat did.
 After the vote, those in favor were happy to offer reasons why. Most echoed Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, who said, “We need to rein in government spending on public employee health insurance to provide relief to taxpayers.“

Democrats who opposed the bill said public employees, most of whom don’t make much money, were being unfairly punished.

But there is another deeper issue here, one with perhaps even constitutional implications. Republicans are generally the loudest proponents of federalism, and the first to resent the federal government telling states what they can and can’t do.

Yet in this case, they are openly and blatantly taking control of their own affairs away from local governments. Perhaps the legislator who saw that most clearly was State Senator Coleman Young, Jr.

“We are coming closer and closer to running local government from the state,“ he said -- and he had a point. His colleague, Senator Glenn Anderson, directly and correctly called out the Republicans on their hypocrisy. “We’re superimposing our will on a matter that has always been a local issue,” he said, adding “I just find it amazing that anyone that would support this bill would get up and make statements (critical of) the federal government dictating to us at the state level.”

Interestingly enough, when they leave the ideological world of the state legislature, some of the lawmakers may find this bill isn’t even universally popular with Republicans.

Deputy Oakland County Executive Gerald Poisson complained that his county has its fiscal house in order, but that “now, our employees, who have already taken pay cuts, are going to be punished because other places haven’t.”

Few yet know how much this will cost various workers, and as far as I can tell, nobody knows how much money governments will save. There is a sound argument for getting public sector health care costs under control, but that’s not exactly what happened here.

Republicans had an opportunity to sock it to government workers, and they took it. But in trampling the principle of local control, there may be long-term implications they may regret.