Screwing us over, yet again

Lansing won't retroactively take things away — from themselves

Oct 12, 2011 at 12:00 am

You gotta hand it to our state legislators, especially those serving in the Senate. They know all about shared sacrifice.

They just define it a little differently than you or I would. They believe it means pretending to sacrifice, but really making future generations pay so they don't have to.

They proved this last week, big-time — especially the Republicans, though the mealy-mouthed Democrats were nearly as bad. They sniveled, as always, and then took their share.

What Your Elected Representatives will tell you is that they heroically acted to help save the state by voting to give up lifetime health care benefits for retired lawmakers.

That is true of many in the House. Two-thirds of them will lose their retirement health care. But not the state senators. What they mostly voted to do was to deny benefits to people who haven't been elected yet, and who could, once they get there, change the law back.

But as for our current band of senators — all but two of the 38 voted to keep their lifetime benefits, thank you very much.

Here's how all this started. Republicans as a species hate the idea of universal health care insurance for everyone, and they especially hate that President Obama managed to get Congress last year to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

They've been lying their pants off about what it means ever since. But it apparently dimly dawned on those in the Michigan Legislature that it would be a trifle tricky to continue screaming for this "socialist" health care bill to be repealed while keeping for themselves a much better, taxpayer-subsidized lifetime health care plan.

What they get is certainly better than you have, something the conservative Grand Rapids Press called "a staggering symbol of political class entitlement." Until now, all you had to do is manage to serve six years in the Legislature, reach age 55, and then get 90 percent of your health care costs covered — for life.

Incidentally, they've been getting this perk since an overwhelmingly Republican set of lawmakers voted to give it to themselves in 1957. But this year, with the heat on, the Michigan House of Representatives voted to eliminate the retirement benefit, for all but a small handful of those who started before 2007. 

They sent it on to the state Senate, whose members looked at it and said, "Wait just a minute, kids. Sure, it may be politically popular to give up our benefits, but we want to keep ours!"

So the Senate passed a different bill — one that gave lawmakers up to 2013 to get their six years in. That meant that 90 of the 138 House members were out of luck, for now, anyway. But all but two of the state senators will still get retirement health care for life!

Most of them served in the House first, and piled up enough years. Did the dozen Democrats in the Senate stand on principle against this flagrant hypocrisy? What do you think?

They took the money and ran. The vote was 37-1. The only vote against it, in fact, was that of Coleman Young II, who improbably has been sounding lately like the conscience of the Senate.

"This is unfair. If you are going to wipe out health care, wipe it out for everyone," he said, calling what his fellow lawmakers did a "big pander." Incidentally, Young himself qualifies for retirement health care. His fellow senators, like Pontius Pilate, averted their eyes and washed their hands. The House then cheerfully passed the Senate version, 96-11. After all, at least some of them get on the gravy train ...

... and hey, maybe more will be able to cash in later. After all, you can always amend a law when nobody's looking.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville's remarks were in a class by themselves. "We're not going to retroactively take things away from people that they signed up for," quoth he.

That is absolutely one of the most precious things I've ever heard a lawmaker say. Richardville this year voted to make teachers pay for higher health insurance benefits. He wants to make teaching a "right to work" profession, in other words, to destroy the union shop.

These most assuredly weren't things teachers "signed up for." Richardville, a Republican from Monroe, also voted to tax the pensions of retired workers, and to reduce the health care benefits of other unionized state workers. They didn't sign up for that either.

His Republicans voted to end the homestead tax credit and the credit for giving to charity. They essentially forced local governments to charge police and fire personnel higher health care costs.

Randy also helped end the tax credit for the working poor and cut unemployment to the lowest number of weeks in the nation.

But give up taxpayer-subsidized retirement health care for those who have been busy taking more and more benefits away from millions of taxpayers? How naïve can any of us possibly be?

Some day, when the people do revolt, I fully expect that most of these lintheads will actually wonder why.

Wayne County follies, Part II: Last week, I wrote about the outrageous deal given Turkia Awada Mullin, now the executive director of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, at $250,000 a year.

My problem wasn't that she was picked over a bunch of outside candidates who, unlike herself, had run airports before. The issue was that she was given a $200,000 goodbye kiss from County Executive Bob Ficano, paid out of taxpayer money, naturally.

Her Airportness at first indignantly blustered that she was worth every penny and wasn't going to return it. Later, however, after Big Bob called her from China, she had a change of heart, and said she'd give it back. (I wonder if anyone is checking to see if she really did.)

Later, we also learned that her secretary, one Sheri Galofaro-Mendez, also got a "severance payment" of $15,600 to leave one job and take another. Ficano, that old fox, swore he would make sure the henhouse was properly guarded in the future.

You can take that for what it's worth. But what's fascinating to me about all this is the torrent of e-mails I've received from present and former Wayne County employees — some high-ranking.

They say that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and, as one said, if anyone properly investigates the way business is done in Wayne County, "we are in for a Rocky Ride that just might end with someone or some people behind bars."

The question is — will any Detroit newspaper devote a fraction of the resources to this clearly important story that they did in admirably exposing Kwame Kilpatrick? The daily papers still seem to cover KK's every move, though he has long since lost any relevance, except perhaps to whatever warden he may answer to next.

But the story of how Wayne County works is, in all probability, huge. Maybe even bigger than Kwame, given that it involves the whole county, not just that minority of it that lives in Detroit.

No single columnist can adequately take this on, especially when he has other jobs and no prospect of a $200,000 severance.

This, however, shows just how important journalism still is in today's society — and how tragic it is when news organizations refuse to commit their resources to the kind of work that is absolutely essential for the functioning of a free society.