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  April 21, 2011

Draconian Michigan Bill Promoted by Major Corporations

American Legislative Exchange Council organizes national campaign to pass "model" legislation in states
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DAVID DOUGHERTY: A protest held at the state capital in Lansing on Wednesday, April 13, is reported to have drawn as many as 5,000 demonstrators from all over the state, while additional mobilizations have been held in areas such as Detroit and Flint. Organized labor has played a critical role in the demonstrations, with union members coordinating many of the actions. A slew of recent legislation sponsored by Snyder and state Republicans has sparked public outcry in Michigan over a range of issues, including attacks on the rights of public sector workers and unions, deep spending cuts and privatization proposals for the public education system, the introduction of an anti-immigration profiling law similar to Arizona's SB 1070, proposals to tax pensions and eliminate earned-income and other tax credits for working families, raising individual taxes that disproportionately affect low-income earners while slashing the taxes corporations pay by 86 percent, and an enactment of a law greatly expanding the governor's emergency management powers. Former UAW local president Frank Hammer says this is part of an emergent national strategy spearheaded by right-wing think tanks and corporate dollars.

FRANK HAMMER: The rest of the country is suffering from what's called the Great Recession. We here in Michigan know it as a depression. We have had the most unemployment for most of this period of time in the state of Michigan. The state of Michigan is the only state that's actually lost population. We have been devastated. And we now have a double-whammo with the Republicans sweeping the elections in 2010. I mean, in this state, in the person of Governor Snyder and the state legislature being dominated by Republicans in both the House and the Senate, and even in the Supreme Court, so that we have now had a perfect sort of storm, where the state's been devastated and we have the Republicans in an absolute majority with no interference by any sizable Democratic opposition--. So as we've already seen in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio, and other states, they're beginning to implement what appears to be a national strategy that's being done in every state, whereby the corporations, through their contributions to something called the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a national organization that is supporting right-wing think tanks in, I think, about 46 states, who are feeding these states model [incompr.] legislation that contribute to four objectives of this American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, which includes privatization, which includes elimination of regulations on corporations, includes the elimination of pollution controls on corporations--. Those are the things that ALEC is supporting.

VOICEOVER: According to a report by the American Association for Justice, on the surface, ALEC's membership is mostly comprised of thousands of state legislatures [sic]. Each pays a nominal membership fee in order to attend ALEC retreats and receive model legislation. ALEC's corporate contributors, on the other hand, pay a king's ransom to gain access to legislatures and distribute their corporate-crafted legislation. So, while the membership appears to be public sector, the bankroll is almost entirely private sector. In fact, public sector membership dues account for only around 1 percent of ALEC's annual revenues. ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, but in fact its free-market, pro-business mission is clear. Some of the largest corporations in the United States are members on ALEC's private enterprise board, including companies like Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, AT&T, and Koch Industries. Across the country, local organizations affiliated with ALEC promote their policy objectives by writing bills that are then introduced to state legislatures and voted upon.

HAMMER: The local vehicle here in Michigan is the Michigan--is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is a right-wing think tank which is responsible for writing up 33 different legislative bills that have been introduced in the state government by the Republican legislature for passage, which includes--the central centerpiece is the Emergency Financial Manager Bill, which builds on legislation that's previously existed in the state, by giving unrestricted power to the emergency financial manager, including the right to dissolve local municipal governments, the right to tear up union contracts, and the like. And that's just one of the bills. There are 32 others that pretty much go after public sector workers, pretty much go after the safety net that exists here for people in the state of Michigan. And this is all being driven through the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

VOICEOVER: Snyder's Emergency Management Act allows him to personally handpick appointees, now including corporate CEOs, to oversee and manage struggling municipalities that are declared to be in a state of financial emergency based on 18 new triggers. Signed into law on March 16 of this year, the new provisions grant appointed individuals such expanded powers as the ability to strip locally elected officials of their power, seize and sell public assets, cut back services, and break contracts with public employees at will. The retroactive law's dramatic centralization of executive and private sector power has been criticized as draconian and authoritarian. On Friday, April 15, Benton Harbor became the first city to fall under Snyder's new financial martial law, as many opponents are now calling it.

HAMMER: So the spearhead is against democracy. It's actually implementing emergency laws in place of the democratic laws, and it's replacing democratically elected politicians and legislators and city council representatives with dictatorial powers selected by the governor, and in the case of this state, by Governor Snyder.

DOUGHERTY: Groups in Michigan have initiated an effort to recall Governor Snyder, mirroring some of the recall strategies organized in neighboring states like Wisconsin and Ohio. With more than 700 bills targeting public sector union already introduced across the country, it appears that organized opposition to Republican policies like those in Michigan will continue as the national struggle over who will pay for the financial crisis rages on. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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