Saturday, May 7, 2011

Same-Sex, More Costs, Bigger Deficit?


Michigan's Attorney General has filed a lawsuit to stop Michigan's Civil Service Commission from going ahead with providing health care and other state employee benefits to persons living in the home of employees without benefit of those persons enjoying the title of spouse or legal dependent.

In fact, the Civil Service ruling allows for same-sex partners, their dependents/or and other non-related house-mates to receive these benefits. Attorney General Bill Schuette believes the commission exceeded its authority by extending the associated benefits. One union covering many of the employees, UAW Local 6000, believes that the benefits are a result of the collective bargaining process and should be allowed.

Michigan voters in 2004 passed a state-wide initiative defining marriage as a union between man and woman, which then prompted the Supreme Court to rule that benefits for the same-sex significant others was not allowable under that initiative. That prompted a change in contract language that broadened the definition of eligibility for these benefits. The Civil Service then ruled that based on the language change, the benefits were  allowable, which is what the fight now is about.

The AG's office says the Civil Service Commission has authority to set wages but not to establish eligibility for benefits. Another of its arguments is that since relatives and other siblings in the home are not eligible to receive those same benefits, it violates the Michigan Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

Extending these benefits at this time clearly has a negative impact on the state's deficit. What pot of money can be shifted to offset these new costs? If the Civil Service does not prevail, is that yet another attack on a union's ability to negotiate contract terms?

Snyder sends a clear message when giving a billion dollar tax cut to business, while at the same time taxing the pensions of younger retirees. The administration says we cannot afford these benefits because it will cost the state about $8 million we don't have, but gives a tax break to the business special interest lobby while attacking vulnerable seniors with a new tax many of them cannot afford.

Can we afford it? Is it legal? Are we playing catch-up to other states that recognize same sex marriages? Is this a slippery-slope scenario? Is this yet another attack on the collective bargaining process?

Do you even care?

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