Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber voices opposition to proposed domestic partner benefits ban
The Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber is the latest group to come out against a GOP-led effort to outlaw domestic partner benefits for public employees in Michigan.
The chamber's executive committee on Wednesday approved a statement voicing its opposition to House Bills 4770 and 4771.
The chamber makes a business case for rejecting the bills, arguing it would be detrimental for the business community and would be perceived as discriminatory if they became law.
"As a state, we cannot afford to be exclusionary when we're trying to attract and retain talent," said Sean Duval, chair of the chamber's public policy committee. "We are a better place because of the diversity of wonderful people who call this region home, and we want our public institutions to use every tool they have to attract and retain each and every bright individual."
The Ann Arbor City Council, University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University also have come out in opposition to the proposed ban on domestic partner benefits.
U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said 570 adults and 48 children receive domestic partner benefits through a U-M health care plan. The average cost per person to the university is $3,072, or $1.9 million total, she said. That's 0.7 percent of U-M's $302 million total health care cost.
City Administrator Steve Powers said the city of Ann Arbor offers domestic partner benefits as long as the employee and "other qualified adult" have lived together for 18 months. He said there currently are 12 adults receiving such coverage from the city.
The county's policy is similar. County Administrator Verna McDaniel said the county provides domestic partner benefits to nine "other eligible adults" right now.
Coleman came out against the ban last week, arguing the university must be able to offer an excellent benefit package to its employees and to those its hopes to recruit.
"The loss of our ability to offer such benefits would put the university, and our state, at a serious disadvantage compared to peers," Coleman wrote in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and sent to all 38 state senators.
The following is the full text of the A2Y Chamber's statement.
While we understand the fiscal arguments for HB 4770 and 4771, the A2Y Regional Chamber does not support these bills and joins with our universities to respectfully ask our state legislature and governor to oppose them. These bills would prohibit public employers from including domestic partner benefits in their public employee compensation packages, and would make domestic partner benefits a prohibited subject in collective bargaining. We advocate for government at all levels to find costs savings and consolidations whenever and wherever practical, but we cannot support these bills because of the detrimental effect they could have on our current residents and members, as well as the possible stifling disadvantage they could impose for attracting the best potential residents who seek to come to our community.
At the heart of this issue is the ability to attract employees who will bring value to our universities and our communities. Recent Census Bureau data from 2010 shows that unmarried households were 45% of all U.S. households and nearly 9,400 employers in the U.S. offer domestic partner health benefits for their employees. Of these companies, 95% offer the benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Well over half of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partners benefits and 80% of Fortune 50 companies offer the benefits. In Michigan this includes Chrysler, Delphi, Dow Chemical, Ford, GM, Visteon, Whirlpool and Delta Airlines. We support the rights of businesses to decide on their own what types of benefits they will provide their employees so that they can be the most competitive. At a time when government needs to adopt the practices and efficiencies of private industry, these figures also highlight the need for our government to attract the very best and brightest employees. We believe government should provide a framework for commerce, establish rules that all should follow and then get out of the way of our businesses and institutions so that they may succeed or fail on their own merits. In this case our state universities have their own governance provided under the Michigan Constitution and this action being undertaken by the Michigan Legislature is both unneeded and unwise.
While these bills do not directly affect private businesses, we value the wonderful university system we have in this community and the myriad benefits that derive from their presence, including the many wonderful people who work for and with that system. Our community prospers when our public university system prospers. Those institutions would be at a competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining the most talented employees if these benefits are prohibited. Again, while we appreciate any attempts to find cost savings in government, we join with the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and our university community in opposing these bills because of their detrimental effects on our business community.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's e-mail newsletters.