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Michigan Senate Begins Hearings on Reform Package
State law needs significant amendments to help local governments maintain police and fire services
LANSING, Mich. —Local government officials applauded the Michigan Senate Reforms and Restructuring Committee for starting debate this week on Public Act (PA) 312 reforms, but urged the senators to amend the legislation to better protect taxpayers and public safety jobs.
Amending 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, said local government leaders who attended yesterday’s committee hearing. They appreciated the Senate’s efforts to speed up the arbitration process with Senate Bill 1072, an amendment to PA 312 which governs police and fire contracts. But they urged legislators to go further in amending PA 312 by allowing arbitrators negotiating contracts for police officers and firefighters to consider a community’s ability to pay for the contract terms. Currently, PA 312 does not require arbitrators to consider if a community could afford the police and fire contract proposals that are on the table for negotiation.
“Currently under PA 312, communities are forced to pay higher costs, and the only thing left to cut is public safety,” said Jeff Jenks, Michigan Municipal League president and Huntington Woods mayor pro tem. “These bills address expediting the arbitration process, but we need changes that allow arbitrators to consider whether or not a community has the ability to pay for the police and fire services being proposed.”
“To create the kinds of places people want to live, communities must be able to offer essential public services, of which public safety is the most important. If a community can’t afford the police and fire contract on the table but still must accept it, essential services are going to be cut, including police officers and firefighters,” he said.
Jenks said the Senate PA 312 reforms would not cost the state a dime and would benefit taxpayers by giving local governments control over the largest expense in their budgets.
Howard Shifman, an attorney representing several communities including Hazel Park and St. Joseph, said without changes to PA 312 there will be a reduction in police officers and firefighters in these areas.
"There absolutely will be layoffs if 312 isn't amended properly," he said.
Samantha Harkins, League legislative associate, said PA 312 adds 3 to 5 percent in costs to municipalities.
“If I can be frank, at the local government level, communities just can’t do it anymore,” Harkins explained.
Meridian Township Manager Jerry Richards said those negotiating contracts will always be at a disadvantage until the issues with PA 312 are addressed.
“All of us who have negotiated contracts want to settle contracts,” he said. “Unfortunately, the real negotiation won’t begin until the day you change PA 312.”
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, largely because of revenue sharing cuts and PA 312.
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.
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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.