An Open Letter to Rick Snyder

What are your priorities?

(Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series examining the stances on labor and related issues of Virgil Bernero and Rick Snyder, the Democratic and Republican nominees, respectively, for governor.)

Mr. Rick Snyder
Rick for Michigan
124 E. Washington St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Aug. 13, 2010

Dear Rick,

Congratulations on your success in the gubernatorial primary. As the Republican nominee for governor, you can expect even more scrutiny from concerned residents, media, and policy analysts. With that in mind I have looked over some of your interviews and articles, as well as the lengthy policy statements on your website. I hope you would be willing to answer some questions about your plans for our state. As is the case with similar questions I directed towards your opponent, I would be pleased to post your answers on the Mackinac Center and Michigan View blogs.

In an online interview with Common Sense in Government, you stated that you would sign a right-to-work law (meaning that Michigan workers would not be obligated to join or support unions as a condition of employment) if you were presented with one, but that it was not part of your "agenda." Given the controversy surrounding the issue, right-to-work protections for Michigan employees will not advance without the active support of the governor. Can we conclude that right-to-work will not be made law during a Snyder administration?

If so, it is disappointing but understandable. It is entirely reasonable that you would want to take on other challenges as governor. But the unions remain a powerful and, in many ways, destructive force in this state. Their redistributive ideology aggravates the "win-lose" mentality that you decry. The MEA and MFT are vehemently opposed to the structural reform of public schools that you apparently favor while demanding increased spending that you consider unwarranted. Government employee unions have driven up benefit costs that you acknowledge are out of line with the private sector and are unsustainable.

If right-to-work is off the table, what reforms to labor law would you support? Would you consider taking teacher merit pay out of collective bargaining, allowing districts to reward teachers based on student performance without the need for union approval? Would you repeal the state's prevailing wage law, which adds hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the cost of government? Would you support repeal or substantive changes to the binding arbitration process for police and firefighters? At a minimum, would you pledge to reverse the forced unionization of small-business owners who provide day care out of their own homes?

On the subject of union benefits - rationalizing benefits will likely entail a protracted legal and political battle with government employee unions. What steps would you take to ensure that the state is in a position to win these battles? City and county governments throughout the state face similar difficulties with benefits and with organized employees. Can you offer them any assistance?

Later in that same interview you hedged on whether or not you would support the removal of limitations on the number of charter schools in Detroit. Detroit Public Schools is among the least effective school systems in the nation, and internal reform efforts have fizzled in the face of determined resistance by the Detroit Federation of Teachers and others. Open competition from charters may be the only mechanism by which quality public education can make a return to the city. You appear to be open to this idea but say you need assurances about quality. What sorts of assurances would it take to get you to "yes" on Detroit charters?

Your website's rather detailed policy statements include the following with regard to health care: "Poor lifestyle choices and an outdated approach to healthcare have caused Michigan to be one of the unhealthiest states in the nation," and "Public-Private Partnerships will increase access to health care for those in dire need." You express no opinion, however, on the new federal health care law. How do these "partnerships" relate to that law? Are these a supplement to a federal program you support? A means of working around a flawed federal program? A replacement for a federal system you expect will eventually fail? Will you support litigation or legislation designed to dismantle federalized health care?

The state's economic development programs seem to have become vulnerable to abuse - as illustrated by the RASCO and Hangar42 debacles. It is your contention that the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which targets businesses for tax incentives, could still prove to be of value in attracting companies and jobs to Michigan, but that it must become "less political, more professional." How would you measure professionalism in the handing out of tax credits? As a former MEDC director, it might be too much to expect you to tear down your handiwork, but would you support a sharp reduction in MEDC's funding and prerogatives until it has re-established its professionalism and competence?

As I noted in my letter to your opponent, Virgil Bernero, with the many years of economic stagnation, most voters will be looking for a clean break from the Granholm administration. I suspect that making that clean break will be especially important for you. Bernero is from the current governor's party and has the support of many of the same government employees, unions and other interest groups - what has been described as the political class - that backed Gov. Granholm. These groups would probably be willing to accept more of the same. Your target voters, by contrast, will be even more eager for substantive changes. You would appear to possess a cooler temperament than your opponent, who has embraced the title of "angriest mayor in America," but temperament is not likely to be enough; some further specifics will be in order. I hope you will take this opportunity to provide them.

Sincerely,

Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy
Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Paul Kersey is director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.