By: Bill Pilchak – 4/7/15
For a long time political payoffs were a way of life in some parts of Southeast Michigan. Most with their ear to the ground (like attorneys who speak to many people about their businesses) had long heard stories of graft in the City of Detroit, from the shakedowns my in-laws (mom-and-pop grocers) experienced from city inspectors in the 1960’s to hipsters trying to start businesses in Detroit in the 21st century, only to be assessed surprise “fees” in the 11th hour. Then, the federal prosecution of Kwame Kilpatrick illuminated the six-figure payoffs that were required to do serious business in the city. Macomb County is much, much better, but still I have been retained in the past to investigate allegations of corruption in that county, have spoken to law enforcement on the topic and understand it is not squeaky clean. Conversely, as one who has been both employed by and done business in the public sector in Oakland County, I can honestly say I am unaware of shady dealings there.
Call me naïve, but I rankle at the thought of payoffs. And that is why I am having so much trouble with Proposal 1, the ballot initiative to raise the sales tax to fix roads.
We all know that Michigan roads are among the worst in the nation and that they must be fixed. Even though I already feel taxed-to-the-max and though I know that once we pass a sales tax increase, it will NEVER decrease, I would consider increasing taxes to fix the roads…if the money raised would be used to fix the roads. However, as reported by the Free Press 12/19/14, democrats would not support the bill without a pay-off to their constituencies. Apparently, it’s not good enough that every single road-building dollar will unavoidably be spent on unionized construction companies (because of Michigan’s prevailing wage act). According to Lansing insider, Tim Skubic, $700 million of the $1.9 billion raised (37%) will go to schools (i.e., indirectly to the MEA), to needy families and local governments. The non-partisan House Fiscal Agency breaks the $1.9 billion down this way: $1.25 billion for roads, $200 million for schools, $116 million for mass transit, $111 million for cities and $173 million for the state’s general fund. Skubic’s reference to “needy families” must be referring to the general fund allocation and an increase to the earned income tax credit.
Apparently, the Republicans are not much better, as reports suggest they insisted on a reduction of fuel tax in exchange for support of the bill. At least a reformulation of fuel tax is related to the road and transportation issues addressed in the legislation…but that’s a weak excuse.
Can’t anyone in Lansing simply do something based on principle? Can’t legislators all agree that the roads need fixing and vote to fix them…or at least vote to pass the buck to the voters to fix them, without seeking payoffs in other respects?
Pilchak & Cohen had an experience with one hand washing the other a few years ago. When Michigan increased its minimum wage (always a goal of democratic legislators), the Legislature unwittingly triggered an obscure provision in Michigan’s minimum wage law that eliminated a variety of overtime exemptions that existed under federal law for decades. Dan Cohen worked with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to restore the accidental repeal, which could easily bankrupt industries that relied upon them. One would like to think that the Dems, who had just been granted a minimum wage increase, would quickly agree to amend the act and restore the exemptions that had been in effect for decades. Not a chance. Horse trading was required to correct the mistake. Reportedly, they received a promise that Republicans would look the other way while unions sought to “represent” home health workers…i.e., mainly family members who received checks from the State of Michigan to care for severely impaired relatives and who did not need a union or to pay union dues. That scam worked until June, 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that home health workers could not be forced to join a union in Harris v Quinn.
I’m a lifelong student of politics. But I’m getting sick of the process and the greed. And if the state of Michigan’s roads isn’t enough to get Pols to vote on principle alone, that’s a bad sign for the future.