LANSING-Should departments of the state government be allowed to award contracts to private companies for consulting, computer support and other services that are temporary, require expertise the state doesn't have, or would yield long-term savings-without asking permission from the state Civil Service Commission?

The Commission itself said okay to this idea back in 1997-raising the limit on the dollar amount of contracts that could be awarded in this way from $5,000 to $500,000. But the Michigan Coalition of State Employee Unions sued and the matter has been batting around in the courts ever since.

But this July, the Michigan Supreme Court will rule on whether the new Civil Service Commission rule violates the state constitution-as the unions claim and as the state Court of Appeals has upheld-or whether the rule can stand.