LANSING (WWJ/AP) – The Michigan Supreme Court says a referendum on the state’s emergency manager law will appear on the November ballot.
Republican Justice Mary Beth Kelly provided the crucial vote for Friday’s decision, joining three Democratic justices.
WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick explained that the court was asked to decide a technical issue.
“Remember, this is the case about font size. The opponents said, you know what? When the petitions were circulated, and the names were gathered, the letters were not high enough,” said Skubick. “But the court, obviously, on this split decision, disagreed, thus clearly the way for a vote.”
This means voters will decide whether to keep or kill a law that sends powerful emergency managers into distressed communities and school districts to fix their finances.
The decision is a major victory for unions, which represent many workers who have been laid off or whose pay has been slashed by emergency managers. It’s a significant loss for Republicans, especially Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed the law.
“This will be a very, very bitterly fought campaign,” Skubick said.
As enacted, Public Act 4 allows the governor to take over a local government or school district by appointing an emergency manager to assume the authority and responsibility of locally elected officials. It includes the power to terminate collective bargaining agreements and even dissolve a unit of government.
Critics say the law gives unconstitutional power to state-appointed emergency managers, who have authority to toss out union contracts and strip power from locally elected officials.
Supporters of the law say it’s needed to provide the tools to fix financial problems that locally elected leaders have been unable to fix themselves.
Emergency managers are in place in Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac and Ecorse, as well as in public schools in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights.
Although Detroit doesn’t have a manager, the possibility of appointing one led Mayor Dave Bing and the city council to sign a deal with the governor that put several strict requirements in place to repair the city’s finances.
Mayor Bing released the following Friday’s ruling:
“We respect the Michigan Supreme Court’s opinion, protecting the constitutional right of citizens to use the petition process. However, the Financial Stability Agreement (FSA) remains in effect and is still a critical tool to help fiscally stabilize the city.
The City is bound by the FSA to continue to restructure city government (as required by Annex B) and to continue to execute the imposition of new labor terms (as allowed by Annex D). The imposition of the City Employment Terms remains valid.
The Financial Advisory Board will also remain in tact as will its oversight function to make sure the City is moving forward in restructuring.
The court’s decision is not expected to affect the bond issue we need to maintain the city’s cash flow, and the city must complete the bond issue to fund city operations.
The bottom line is the City’s fiscal challenges remain, and Public Act 4 was one tool to help us. Without P.A.4, we will continue to execute our fiscal restructuring plan.”
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