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Dec. 8, 2009
Legislation Seeks to Protect Police and Fire Jobs by Allowing Arbitrators to Consider a Community’s Ability to Pay
LANSING, Mich. – A common sense amendment to Public Act (PA) 312 would keep more police officers and firefighters on the job across Michigan and give local governments the ability to better manage the biggest costs in their budgets, local government leaders said today.
They called on the Legislature to pass House Bill 5325, an amendment to PA 312 that would require arbitrators negotiating contracts for police officers and firefighters to consider a community’s ability to pay when making decisions regarding contract costs. PA 312 is the state law that governs police and fire contract negotiations.
As written, PA 312 does not define a community’s ability to pay. This means arbitrators aren’t required to consider whether a community can even afford the police and fire contract proposals on the table.
“In the wake of years of massive revenue sharing cuts from the Legislature and Governor, local governments are asking Lansing to give us the ability to manage the biggest costs in our budgets,” said Jeff Jenks, Michigan Municipal League President and Huntington Woods Mayor Pro Tem. “House Bill 5325 would give arbitrators the authority to consider whether a local government can even afford the police and fire contract that has been proposed. Common sense suggests that local governments and their taxpayers should be able to afford a contract before we are forced to accept it.”
Dan Gilmartin, executive director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League, said House Bill 5325 is a substantial government reform that can be achieved with a simple majority vote of the Legislature and the Governor’s signature.
“Michigan lawmakers have pledged, but failed to deliver, substantial government reforms,” Gilmartin said. “This one does not require a ballot question. It does not require a super majority vote of the Legislature. All it requires is simple majority approval of the House and Senate and the Governor’s signature. By Passing House Bill 5325, Lansing could finally demonstrate to the entire state that it is serious about helping to better control government costs.”
PA 312 forces local governments into binding arbitration with police and firefighters when they reach a contract impasse. As a result, local governments are often forced to layoff officers and firefighters and cut other programs and services to pay unaffordable higher wages to those with more seniority.
Michigan has lost more than 2,400 firefighters and 2,000 police officers since 2001 partly due to revenue sharing cuts and PA 312,. Michigan communities that have announced reduced police and/or firefighter jobs in the recent months include Grand Rapids, Troy, Hillsdale, Bay City, Ann Arbor, Lansing and many others.
“We’re paying more for less because of the way PA 312 reads today,” said Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland. “These awards have resulted in pay scales that are unsustainable for our local units of government. Our communities are laying off public safety officers and leaving open positions unfilled. The obvious losers in all of this are taxpayers who pay more for reduced public safety.”
Michigan currently has 18.6 officers per 10,000 residents, compared to a national average of 22.9 per 10,000 residents, according to research by the Michigan State University Extension State and Local Government Program. The state has 6.9 firefighters per 10,000 residents, compared to a national average of 10.9 per 10,000.
House Bill 5325 is sponsored by state Rep. Haveman. Additional legislation is being considered by several other state lawmakers.
For additional information and a short video explaining the issue, please visit www.abilitytopay.org.
The Michigan Municipal League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services. For more information, visit www.mml.org.