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City Council voices support for gun control measures

The city of Charlottesville is weighing in on the debate over federal gun control laws. Is it useful for local politicians to pass symbolic resolutions on national issues? Or should city council members focus on city issues, leaving national issues up to members of Congress?

Flint Water Crisis Triggers Constitutional Amendment Proposal

Flint Water Crisis Triggers Constitutional Amendment Proposal

House Speaker wants to make it easier to fire incompetent government employees

The investigation into how the City of Flint’s drinking water became contaminated almost immediately became highly politicized and partisan, but this much seems clear: The crisis involved government failures at the local, state and federal levels. The failure was aggravated by overlapping layers of opaque and possibly contradictory regulations promulgated by multiple agencies, which all conspired to dilute responsibility and accountability.

Nevertheless, the actions – or perhaps inaction - of two long-time civil service employees at the Michigan Department of Environmental quality, have drawn criticism from all quarters, and criminal charges.

In Michigan and most states, government employees are subject to civil service protections originally created during the Progressive era in the early 20th century in an effort to reduce corruption and political patronage that was most visible in big city “machine” politics but was rife throughout government. One unfortunate downside is that the laws make it difficult or even impossible in some cases to fire “civil servants” for anything but the most egregious kinds of malfeasance.

In Michigan, these protections are built into the state constitution in the form of a Civil Service Commission that in the matter of state employees can even trump the action of the legislature in some areas.

This is the context for a new proposal to amend the state constitution introduced Thursday by the Speaker of the Michigan House, Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant), as House Joint Resolution MM. The measure would give state department heads the power to fire civil servants for “conduct that directly and negatively impacts the department's ability to accomplish its statutory duties in a fair, timely,

equitable, and transparent manner.” Employees would retain the right to appeal to the Civil Service Commission, and get their jobs back if it judged the firing “arbitrary and capricious.”

Given the politicization of the Flint water debacle the fate of the measure is uncertain. It would require a two-third supermajority vote in both the House and Senate to be placed on the ballot, and then the approval of voters. Cotter is widely regarded as an effective and able Speaker, however, so it would be premature to count the proposal out yet.

Unaffiliated candidates fight for ballot access

Right now, it is difficult for candidates unaffiliated with the Democratic or Republican parties to get on the ballot in North Carolina and many other states. Do you think barriers to unaffiliated candidates should be lower? Or are states justified in keeping some candidates off the ballot?

At VMI, Kaine makes renewed push for war powers vote against Islamic State

Sen. Tim Kaine is calling on Congress to authorize military action against the Islamic State, or ISIS. President Obama has already ordered some attacks on ISIS without congressional approval. Do you think Sen. Kaine has the right idea? Or should the U.S. end military action in this area?

State Fails to Deposit Required Amount in School Pension System

The state of Michigan has accumulated huge unfunded liabilities in the government employee retirement systems it runs due to failing to deposit the required amounts into pension funds. The system for public school employees is the largest and currently has a $26.5 billion unfunded liability. Taxpayers are on the hook for this debt to the tune of more than $2,600 for every man, woman, and child in the state.

So it is significant that for the sixth year in a row state officials once again failed to adequately fund the system. According to an article in Michigan Capitol Confidential, the state’s own actuaries calculated that it should deposit $2.18 billion into the school employee system this year. The deposit covers the additional pension benefits accrued by individual employees for the year, plus some extra to cover catching up on past underfunding.

However, the state only contributed $1.97 billion, shorting its “Annual Required Contribution” by $210 million.

Legislation has been introduced to contain the growing burden by no longer enrolling new school employees into the defined benefit pension system. Under the bills, new hires would instead get defined contribution, 401(k)-type benefits (see House Bill 5218 and Senate Bill 102).

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