Teachers, professors and state and local government workers should take a 5 percent pay cut later this year and remain at that level for the next three years to help save taxpayers money, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop said Tuesday.
The Republican from Rochester said he is proposing a constitutional amendment to go to voters in August that would suspend collective bargaining rights and allow the pay cut to take effect.
Another constitutional amendment would require that all public employees pay 20 percent of their health care premiums unless they participate in a health savings account or wellness program. If they did, they would have to cover 15 percent of their premiums.
It's all part of a plan Bishop said would save the state about $2 billion, enough to eliminate the estimated $1.6 billion deficit in next year's budget. Schools and local governments could see hundreds of millions more in savings, he added.
"We cannot afford the government that we have today," he said. "We're asking that our public servants ... step up to the plate to be a part of the solution."
It's unclear if either measure could get the two-thirds vote needed in both the Democrat-controlled House and GOP-led Senate by early June to get on the Aug. 3 ballot. If lawmakers balked, the issues could go to voters through a ballot drive, but that could take additional time and money.
The measures also could get caught up in attempts to restructure taxes.
Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Tuesday that she wants changes that could reduce government costs, but also measures that could mean more revenue. Her spokeswoman didn't comment on the specifics in Bishop's proposal.
But the suggested pay cut and higher premiums quickly drew the ire of Mel Grieshaber of the Michigan Corrections Organization, whose members Grieshaber said face life-threatening dangers on the job.
"Here we are, with an officer almost murdered almost weeks ago and two officers recently stabbed by a prisoner," he said. "These officers deserve every penny they make."
The union official noted that lawmakers haven't put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to reduce their pay in recent years, when state employees were seeing their numbers reduced, their pay frozen and furlough days assigned to reduce costs.
"It's frustrating. They've gotten a bye, as far as I'm concerned," Grieshaber said.
Other groups were more supportive. Michigan Manufacturers Association Vice President Mike Johnston noted that "enacting these reforms is exactly what Michigan needs to reduce cost barriers and be competitive in the global economy."
The Michigan Municipal League warned that failing to act on the suggested changes to binding arbitration for police officers and firefighters or pay for consolidated departments "will result in more public safety layoffs and more cuts to essential local services."
Medicaid spending cuts of $160 million to $500 million were also in Bishop's proposal, although he offered no specifics on where he wants to cut. He also would require school districts to competitively bid out transportation, food and custodial services, and to keep administrative spending to 28 percent or less, which would force 211 districts to trim costs.
Bishop said he's not trying to be mean-spirited, but wants to solve the money woes of public institutions, including state government, by decreasing costs rather than raising taxes.
House and Senate Democrats said they agree with the need to trim government, but want to know why Bishop has blocked their efforts to provide financially struggling homeowners with foreclosure assistance and lower insurance rates.
They called again Tuesday for Republicans to support their efforts to end free, taxpayer-funded lifetime health care for state lawmakers starting at age 55 who serve at least six years. Bishop proposed ending the perk, but only for lawmakers who weren't fully vested by Jan. 1.
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