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MEA Head Says GOP Angering Voters Besides Teachers

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EAST LANSING (AP) – Recall efforts against Republican lawmakers are under way because voters besides teachers are unhappy with upcoming taxes on pensions and business tax cuts, the new leader of Michigan’s largest teachers union said Friday.

The Michigan Education Association wouldn’t have bothered to spend $25,000 to pay signature collectors in a recall effort against House Education Committee Chairman Paul Scott if polling hadn’t shown that voters in the GOP lawmaker’s Genesee County district were upset, union President Steve Cook said during the taping of public television’s “Off the Record” program.

“They’re very frustrated. That’s what’s causing the recalls,” said Cook, noting that seniors are unhappy with pension taxes being charged to help pay for a $1.7 billion business tax cut and many voters oppose nearly $1 billion in cuts to public education. “Do not underestimate the mood out there with the general public.”

Scott, who raised MEA members’ ire by playing a key role in changing the state’s teacher tenure policies and voting to cut education funding, may face a recall election in November. State elections officials last week said recall proponents had gathered enough signatures to put the recall on the ballot.
Cook said the MEA isn’t funding signature collection in other parts of the state and noted that GOP lawmakers are giving the union too much credit for dozens of other recall efforts.

“(I’m) trying to convince the Republicans that we’re not nearly as good as they think we are,” he said.
That doesn’t mean teachers aren’t feeling angry and beleaguered, he added. The MEA estimates that a 3 percent fee each teacher must pay toward pension costs and a new law taking effect Jan. 1 that will increase the amount many teachers pay toward their health care premiums will cost its members an estimated $533 million annually.

Cook expressed frustration with GOP lawmakers’ attempts to end payroll deductions for teachers’ union dues and impose so-called right-to-work laws that would apply only to teachers and school staff members. Such laws would ban compelling a person working in a union-covered position from having to join the union.

His members are asking him, “How does this improve education?” Cook said.

House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, told The Associated Press on Friday that the Republicans proposed the legislation because he says some teachers have told lawmakers they don’t want their union dues spent to finance recall efforts. He doesn’t consider the two measures to be payback for the MEA’s recall efforts.

“To call it targeting – which some have – would say that these are bad things,” Bolger said. “I believe that these are things that empower teachers, that … (make) the MEA more accountable to their teacher membership.”

All House Democrats attending session Thursday voted unanimously against the bill ending payroll deductions for teachers’ union dues. They agree with the MEA that K-12 funding is being cut too deeply in the new budget year that takes effect Oct. 1, and plan another series of statewide town halls to hear from citizens about how the education cuts have affected Michigan communities.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said last week that he thinks the MEA is standing in the way of education improvements. He said he thinks the only way to change that is to eliminate laws requiring school employees to join unions, which would potentially cripple union finances.

The proposed right-to-teach law would apply only to the workers represented by the MEA and American Federation of Teachers’ Michigan chapter. Bolger said during a Michigan Public Radio Network call-in program Friday that he backs the measure.

But that doesn’t mean it will become law. Although Gov. Rick Snyder has never said he would veto right-to-work legislation if it got to his desk, spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said recently that the GOP governor is unlikely to back the right-to-teach proposal.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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