Working to Get Betsy That Nomination: A Case Study in Hypocrisy

In an astonishing piece of kettle-calling, the Mackinac Center counters the rising opposition to the Betsy Devos Department of Education nomination by alleging that her opponents are motivated by campaign contributions. Living in the right wing echo chamber, its understandable that the Center is deaf to the obvious truth: the Center supports the Devos nomination because she and her family bankroll their operations. post-8794-1403702267

Ask a conservative think tank why it hides its funders, and you’ll get the preposterous argument that revealing their names will put their contributors in physical danger. The Devos’ funding role has never been admitted by the Center; it’s only come to light thanks to the work of its opponents, including the MEA.

In fact, none of the Mackinac Center’s pieces advocating for the Devos nomination admit to her role in the Center’s finances.

The real motive behind hiding their financiers is to avoid exposing the line that would be drawn from the money it receives to the conclusions reached by its “research.” A line, in this case obvious to the rest of us, that connects Betsy Devos to its work to get her nominated.

Like the President’s tax returns, there may be other reasons to keep these secrets: some think tanks appear to be hiding money from foreign governments.

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Given the golden opportunity of seeing their leader installed in a position that could advance public school privatization in ways they could only dream of months ago, its no small wonder they fail to notice their own projection.

The Mackinac Center, at its essence, is anti-union. It exists to advance this cause on behalf of its funders, which, since it’s earliest days included the Devos family.

As the Center’s President Joe Lehman said: “The strategic idea we had in mind was defunding unions.” The Mackinac Center ally and Director of the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, Scott Hagerstrom was even more direct: “We fight these battles on taxes and regulation, but really, what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.”

war2The Center’s cracker jack research reveals a large number of Democraic candidatess receiving an MEA endorsement. After the 2011-12 tsunami of laws designed to weaken unions, all sponsored by Republicans, passing with overwhelming Republican votes, and signed by Governor Snyder, it’s understandable (to the rest of us) that MEA members struggle to find Republicans who actually support public schools. Add to that the Devos effect on the Republican caucus.

So the chain of causality it alleges illustrates its own business model: Devos wants into the Trump administration, the Devos family finances the Center’s operations, so the Center attacks the nomination’s opponents.

The MEA stance on Devos is clear, as are its funders. The difference is, the MEA’s funders, its members, are out there in the open; the Mackinac Center’s financiers are still in hiding.

Legislature adjourned for week – no voting on our issues

From the MEA lobbyists:

Just an update that both the House and Senate have adjourned for the weekend. They’ll be back on Tuesday for three more days of the lame duck session. 

Please keep up the pressure on both the tax refund “technical fix” (the price tag for which is now up to $425-430 million – check out this Detroit News story – still no final, formal bill number that they’ve decided to use in moving the legislation) and the release time bills (SB 279-280), which now would ban community colleges from payroll deduction of dues. The calls and emails from lawmakers are working and we have to continue that pressure into next week.

More updates when we have them…

Secret Bill, Secret Language, $400 Million School Cut

It’s (much too) common during lame duck for the legislature to use what is known as a “vehicle bill” to move legislation faster. Which is of course, the whole point to having a lame duck session.

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Vehicle bills are innocuous bills sitting on a shelf somewhere, ignored for lack  of support, but that offer a significant constitutional advantage: they’ve been on that shelf for more than 5 days. And because the Michigan Constitution requires every bill must “be in the possession” of each house for at least 5 days, these sleeping bills offer a constitutional short cut.

Just substitute the language you want in place of the bill’s text, and presto! you have a bill ready to send to the Senate! (or to the House if its a Senate bill). No need to wait 5 days

That’s what’s happening right now, a vehicle bill is being rewritten to institute — what fewer and fewer people are believing — is a “tax refund technical fix.” This rewriting of how tax refunds are made will cost schools up to $400 million.

You can find how much it will cost your school district on this spreadsheet.

In fact, at this writing, this change has no bill number, no specific language to share. It’s still a secret and will be until the time comes to run the vehicle bill.

The pension attack was stalled in very large part because of the thousands of member contacts made to the lawmakers. Legislators find out what a bill will really do to their own schools, from people who are in a position to actually know, and votes change.

We need this to happen again. Make a quick call, write a simple email and make a difference. For you, and for the kids you serve.

URGENT – Call lawmakers to stop $400M hit to school funding

As MEA reported last week, a new threat has come up in lame duck which could cost schools more than $400 million next year.
Being billed as a “technical fix” to how tax refunds are paid, this legislation (which has yet to be formally introduced) would use a back-door way to drain school dollars to help pay for tax refunds. Right now, if you get a tax refund, it is paid from General Fund dollars only — the School Aid Fund has been protected from being used for this purpose. This is a way to raid the SAF and take money from our kids without it being obvious. The per district cost would be $273 per student next year alone!

 

Pressure is mounting by legislative leaders on State Representatives to pass this in lame duck. We need to contact State Representatives immediately and urge them to oppose this cash grab from our students. Lame duck isn’t the time to address tax policy, and lawmakers should not sneak through huge cuts to school funding. 

 

To help with your lobbying, see what this new School Aid Fund raid would cost your district in this MEA breakdown of the damage. 

 

Why make this change? Just like when lawmakers started to pay for higher education out of the School Aid funds meant for K-12 schools, they want to tap into school funding to pay for other things. The GOP agenda of aggressive tax breaks has left the state cash-strapped and some lawmakers see the SAF as an attractive pot of money. Please contact lawmakers today to stop this cash grab!

SB 102 is off the table for lame duck

The press release below just went out to the media, after a Senate spokesperson confirmed the news to reporters.
Things we need to reinforce with members at this time:

1) This battle has been won, but this issue is not going away…we need to continue educating lawmakers for the next legislative session starting in January about the consequences of closing the pension system for new hires. But for today, THANK YOU to the thousands of people who communicated with their lawmakers about why SB 102 needed to be stopped.

2) We need to thank the lawmakers who stood with us…we’ll be sharing information on that as soon as we can.

3) Lame duck isn’t over with! The tax refund shift legislation still may move, as well as other issues. As we said in Capitol Comments yesterday – Lame Duck Hurts Kids…and lawmakers should be encouraged to end the lame duck session without passing other legislation that could have unintended consequences for our students and schools.

THANKS ALL!

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MEA calls move to table school employee retirement changes ‘the right decision’

EAST LANSING — The Michigan Education Association is praising the Senate’s decision to table costly legislation that would have forced all new school employees into a defined contribution, 401(k)-style retirement plan.

“Tabling this discussion rather than ramming this legislation through is the right decision,” said MEA President Steven Cook. “Education leaders and fiscal experts agree that dismantling the school employee retirement system would have been bad for school employees, parents, kids and taxpayers.”

Contrary to claims by Republican Senate sponsors that the change would save the state money, Senate Fiscal Agency budget experts projected the change would have cost the state $1.6 to $3.8 billion over the next five years. Those increased costs could have meant a cut of $412 in the per pupil foundation allowance in the first year and over $500 per pupil in each of the next four years. Experts at the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget pegged the 30-year cost of closing the pension system to new hires at an extra $24 billion for taxpayers.

While the change was portrayed as only affecting new hires, closing the defined benefit plan would have put current and retired school employees’ pension security in jeopardy as well, since no new money would have been coming into system to keep it sustainable.

“The fact that many Senators in both parties recognized the high costs of this legislation and the damage those cuts could do to public schools is heartening,” Cook said. “They deserve thanks for listening to the thousands of constituents who contacted them on this issue.”

 

Pension Attack: Momentum Slows

Due in large part to the many thousands of contacts made to legislators by school staffers, momentum to pass SB 102 has slowed. But this is lame duck, so this pressure must be maintained.

Some of the work being done throughout the state:

  • Sharing the district by district (both legislative and school district) cost sheet attached to a recent edition of Capitol Comments. Use your district’s school aid cut when you contact your legislator.
  • Share the same with your superintendent and school board members. Ask them to contact their legislators. The school management crowd has been very helpful in fighting this…they understand the school funding stakes very well and are conveying that to lawmakers.
  • Some parts of the state are planning action parties and open houses to bring members and parents together to help them contact legislators. 
  • Elsewhere, before school walk-ins have been organized to leaflet parents to encourage them to get active. They soon understand that their school’s budget is at risk.
  • Everywhere members are using social media, sharing these posts and the posts of other supporters. Activity on the various MEAMatters platforms is at an all time high. This kind of leverage can generate massive notice and spreads the word to keep us all informed.

 Don't wait for someone else to fix this: take action!

Got an idea of your own? Share it here and with your UNSERV director.

And stay in touch. We can do this.

Call to Action – pension legislation update

 

A message from your MEA lobbyists:

We have been informed by several sources that the calls and emails to state senators are working. Your communications blitz is also getting the attention of legislators in the House. Even if SB 102 passes the Senate, your calls and emails are helping us set up a firewall in the House.

Keep calling and emailing!

Remember-threats, yelling, and general abuse don’t help at all. As the old saying goes, “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.” That sentiment couldn’t be truer than when dealing with elected officials.

KEY POINTS TO MAKE IN YOUR COMMUNICATIONS WITH LAWMAKERS

  1. How will you pay for the financial hole that will be created if you move new hires to a DC plan?
    • Raise taxes?
    • General Fund cuts?
    • School Aid Fund cuts?
  2. If the answer is to cut the School Aid Fund, our schools can’t afford more cuts (and tell the story of effects from recent cuts or plug in budgetary numbers from below).
  3. Then you can point out that failing to fill the financial hole will destabilize the pension of current school employees and those already retired – and that’s not fair.

Your messages in calls and emails must follow this order. If you start with “You are taking away my pension,” or some version of that, lawmakers shut down and don’t listen because they believe they are only impacting new hires. You have to make the connection for them if you want to stop this from happening.

If the Legislature doesn’t accelerate the funding as they should, according to state budget analysts, there will be an average per pupil cut of $1,110 per student over the next five years. If you want exact numbers for cuts that would happen in your district, click here.

Join our Action Network letter writing campaign here.

And you can find contact information for your lawmakers here.