Mich. lawmakers mull arbitration, protests persist

KATHY BARKS HOFFMAN - Associated Press
The Associated Press
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder outlines his plan to reorganize  as demonstrations continue at the Capitol over proposed budget cuts on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011, in Lansing, Mich.   Thousands of protesters showed up at the Capitol for a second day, this time to challenge Republican lawmakers' efforts to take away binding arbitration for police and firefighters, proposed Detroit school closings and Gov. Rick Snyder's budget cuts and tax increases.   (AP Photo/The Detroit News, Dale G. Young)
View photos
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder outlines his plan to reorganize as demonstrations continue at the Capitol over proposed budget cuts on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011, in Lansing, Mich. Thousands of protesters showed up at the Capitol for a second day, this time to challenge Republican lawmakers' efforts to take away binding arbitration for police and firefighters, proposed Detroit school closings and Gov. Rick Snyder's budget cuts and tax increases.

Thousands of protesters showed up at the Capitol for a second day Wednesday, this time to challenge Republican lawmakers' efforts to take away binding arbitration for police and firefighters, proposed Detroit school closings and Gov. Rick Snyder's budget cuts and tax increases.

West Bloomfield firefighters Peter Zarek and Todd Rogers held signs asking lawmakers to keep binding arbitration laws in place, noting the law lets a neutral party decide what's fair in contracts with police and firefighter unions, ending stalemates.

"It gives us a fair voice in the process," said Rogers, 46, a nine-year firefighter who lives in Farmington Hills. "What's wrong with talking?"

A House committee held a hearing Wednesday on the law, which opponents say too often forces local governments to pay wages and benefits they can't afford to police and firefighters. Supporters of the law point out that the arbitrator takes local governments' financial situations into account and that that law keeps police and firefighters on the job while labor disputes are settled.

Detroit teachers upset with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's proposal to close around half of the city's schools to deal with a deficit angrily criticized the decision as they marched in front of the Capitol.

"They say, 'Cut back,'" yelled their leader. "We say, 'Fight back!,'" the teachers responded.

Snyder, meanwhile, issued two executive orders Wednesday changing how the state handles regulation and licensing, saying he wants the state to be more customer friendly.

Noting that the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Development has been "kind of a collection basket for a long time," Snyder said the new Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs will include a new Office of Regulatory Reinvention to "help create a regulatory process and environment that is conducive to economic growth."

One executive order transfers the Bureau of Health Professions, Bureau of Health Systems and the Controlled Substance Advisory Commission from the Department of Community Health to the new Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Other duties of the old department, such as work force development, will be moved to the Michigan Strategic Fund, which is part of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The Michigan Next Energy Authority, Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Land Bank Fast Track also are being moved to the Strategic Fund.

The position of Automobile and Home Insurance Consumer Advocate, a position set up by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm for longtime friend Melvin "Butch" Hollowell, has been abolished. Hollowell left late last year for another job.

Licensing and Regulatory Affairs director Steve Hilfinger said the state will continue to oversee occupational safety and health rather than turning that over to the federal government. He also said that a review will be undertaken to see if the state can stop licensing and regulating some professions currently overseen by the old department.

The executive orders take effect in 60 days.

Asked to name a regulation he thought was a good example of something that was unnecessary, Snyder pointed to a series of ergonomic regulations that were drafted but never put in place under Granholm because of GOP resistance.

"We said it wasn't needed," Snyder said.

Later in the day, the governor told the Michigan Society of Association Executives that his budget proposal is painful, but will get the state back on the right path. The proposal includes a $1.8 billion tax cut for businesses, deep cuts to public schools and universities and tax hikes for most individual taxpayers, especially seniors and the working poor who would lose tax breaks.

"Are there some people suffering? Yes, and I feel terrible about that," Snyder said. "This is about laying the foundation to reinvent our state."

He spoke about his three children, including his 22-year-old son, a 2010 Albion College graduate who hasn't been able to find more than a part-time job. He said the state needs to do more to make itself an attractive place to do business so more jobs are out there when his younger daughters and hundreds of thousands of other students are out of college.

"By the time my youngest gets out, gosh, it could be exciting here," he said.

Most audience members listened politely, but not all applauded in support of his proposals.