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Posted on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

State House and Senate at odds over right-to-work penalty that would affect University of Michigan

By Kellie Woodhouse

Michigan's House and Senate Republicans disagree about just how involved legislators should be in the inner workings of the state's 15 public universities.

State Of The Unions_Wood.jpg

In this Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, file photo, thousands demonstrate at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., against the right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature in December.

AP Photo

House and Senate committees have preliminarily agreed on budgets that would increase state higher education funding by more than $31 million to $1.43 billion. The two bodies, however, don't seem to agree on the extent to which the Legislature should be involved in college affairs.

The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee in a 19-10 vote passed a draft higher education bill that, in addition to increasing overall funding, threatens to ax 15 percent of a university's appropriations if it reached labor agreements in advance of the right-to-work legislation but didn't achieve 10 percent cost savings. The budget also attempts to regulate universities' domestic partner benefits and require reports on stem cell use and college counseling.

The penalties put $74 million in funding at risk for Wayne State University and the University of Michigan, which would otherwise receive $184 million and $279 million from the state, respectively.

U-M settled 5 contracts in the three months prior to right to work taking effect.


Roger Kahn.

MLive file photo

Republicans in the state Senate say their colleagues in the House have gone too far.

A draft education bill passed in a 2-1 vote by a Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations Tuesday doesn't penalize universities for their labor involvement or include language relating to benefits, stem cells or counseling. It does, however, agree to a $31 million higher education funding increase.

Senator Roger Kahn, R- 32nd district, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Senate leadership doesn't support the right-to-work penalty and is composing a letter to House leadership saying just that.

"We will not be supporting the penalties," Kahn said in an interview. "The law allowed 90 days for parties affected by this to decide whether they wanted to renegotiate and some of them did. That seems part-and-parcel of why the law didn't have immediate effect."

Right to work was passed in December, but didn't take effect until March 28. Some unions wanted to open contracts early so they could avoid any negative effects of right-to-work legislation and some schools agreed because they had leverage over unions, resulting in more concessions.

"I believe it is the role of the legislature to provide oversight and make sure the dollars are spent wisely," Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, said during the Tuesday committee meeting. Pscholka chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on higher education and has championed the budget and accompanying boiler plate language.


Al Pscholka

Pscholka and his House Republican colleagues were unhappy about unions avoiding right to work and warned universities that reopening contracts could be justified only if there were sufficient cost savings. In a March 27 interview with, Pscholka said U-M's labor agreements are likely in violation of the right-to-work stipulation because although they slowed cost inflation, they allowed costs —such as salaries— to rise.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R- 20th District, who chairs the Senate's higher education subcommittee, said the Senate is focused on funding and performance metrics, and not political issues.

"The constitution clearly lays out that universities are semi-autonomous. The concern of our subcommittee is that higher education really needs to be an economic driver," she said, adding that it's "not necessarily the state's duty to get in and negotiate every contract out there." With right-to-work, Schuitmaker said "freedom to choose is what needs to be the focus and not hurting students."

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Tonya Schuitmaker

Booth file photo

Kahn said he doesn't think the right-to-work penalty will remain in the final version of the budget, but Schuitmaker said that while she doesn't want the stipulation "everything is negotiable" until the final budget passes.

"There's three legs to the stool," she said. "I don't want to pin myself in a corner."

Cynthia Wilbanks, head of government relations for U-M, said she is optimistic the right-to-work penalty won't be included in the final budget. She noted that there's at least six more weeks of legislative negotiating ahead.

The Legislature wants to pass the final budget by June 1.

"There are numerous points along the way where differences are reviewed and ironed out," she said. "It's hard for me to predict what number of provisions will continue to be retained."

The right-to-work stipulation is just one example, albeit the largest, of the House trying to impose restrictions on universities.

The House committee's higher ed budget also includes boiler plate language that tells universities not to offer benefits to employees' domestic partners, instructs schools to only purchase cars that have been assembled in the U.S., and requires schools to report on their embryonic stem cell use (U-M is the only school that conducts research using such cells). The bill mandates that schools report on how they're accommodating religious beliefs in school counseling programs and requires schools to publicly disclose salary, performance and financial data. Those mandates are not tied to funding.

Gov. Rick Snyder is against all but the transparency requirement.

Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St.Clair Shores, said she found "it very disappointing and frankly appalling" that Republican legislators want to punish universities for acting "within their full rights as a business."

"To meddle in their business I think is a large overreach of this legislature," she said during the Tuesday meeting.

House Appropriations Committee chair Joe Haveman, R- Holland, said the legislators "actually do have a responsibility to meddle, if you want to call it that."

Most issues highlighted in the boiler plate language harken to political debates that took place in Lansing. For example, the Legislature banned state entities from offering domestic partner benefits in 2012, but universities were exempt from the ban because of their constitutional autonomy.

"It's just the nature of the legislative process and frankly the interest of individual legislators," said Wilbanks.

Although voters in 2008 approved a constitutional amendment that allows researchers to create embryonic stem cell cultures and use them in medical research, U-M's stem cell research has long been a controversial issue among Republican lawmakers in Lansing.

When drafting this year's budget, House Republicans tried, but failed, to require the school to disclose information about its stem cell research or lose funding. The language made it in the final version of this year's budget, but the requirement is not tied to funding. Similar language appears in the proposed fiscal 2014 budget.

"The validity of [U-M's stem cell use] should be discussed with scientists, not politicians," said Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor.

As a part of a formula funding model introduced last year, funding increases are tied to performance. The definition of performance could be evolving. Last year's metrics judged schools on the number of technical degrees they produced, improvements in graduation rates and the number of Pell Grant recipients enrolled. This year the House appropriations committee suggested rewarding schools for high-levels of resident undergraduate enrollment. The Senate subcommittee suggested reweighing the metrics.

Last year tuition increases were capped at 4 percent if universities wanted to receive full funding. The House committee has reduced the cap to 3 percent in its draft budget. The Senate subcommittee suggested capping tuition increases at 3.5 percent.

The full House will vote on the budget later this spring and it is likely that the Senate Appropriations Committee will approve its subcommittee's draft budget.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 1:23 a.m.

2014 is coming fast. The Republican majority has become vindictive and over controlling. 2014 can't come quick enough.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 1:05 a.m.

Comment deletion or not, I still maintain that people will take your posts more seriously if you exhibit a reasonable grasp of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But what do I know?

harry b

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 4:53 p.m.

The state of Michigan give each student just about $12,000 per year. In my elementary school that ends up to be about $6,000,000 PER YEAR to run that school. Does anyone see a problem with this? Can this be why charter schools are so popular.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

It's simple: the GOP is now the party of Big Government and more regulation. It switched on us.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

Both parties bring bigger government, but the GOP has brought a lot more in the past decade than the Democratic party has. Especially now.

harry b

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

Do you want to talk about Obama care?

Christy Sargent Anderson

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:32 p.m.

The hypocrisy of the House GOP is stunning. These so-called, legislators who don't want big government meddling, are doing just that. What Wayne State and UofM did with their Union contracts was completely legal. Now the House GOP are gonna have to use Michigan taxpayer money to defend their hypocrisy in court when it could be used to FIX THE ROADS. The GOP House doesn't like 'big government' when it doesn't suit them, but when it suits them to further punish hardworking, middle-class union employees using their position in the legislature as a tool for vengeful retaliation is fine.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:21 p.m.

It is quite odd that the same Republicans who support the idea of limited government are actually big government advocates who meddling in the affair of smaller governments. The lame duck session last fall proved that with the pushing of right to work and emergency manager legislation, not to mention the flawed Rapid Transit Authority which Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority did not want. Now they want to penalize those governments whose legally settled with their unions according to the law. Remember retribution goes both ways and November 2014 will bring that out.

harry b

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

Right to work and EM's was brilliant legislation. Even if the Emergency Manager came from Jennifer Granholm.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

The Unions should be penalized as well for taking advantage of a situation to further add to their coffers. The unions wanted these contracts so that the union dues collection would survive, not because the contracts benefitted the workers.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 9:51 p.m.

I think everyone should know that Wayne State had been in negotiations since September before they got a contract. Their contract negotiations began before right to work was passed. I think it is ridiculous to penalize them for reaching a settlement with the administration of Wayne State.

harry b

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 4:57 p.m.

Clownfish Why do you think they rushed to the table to get a contract that was expiring for over a year(U or M hospital). This is not an opinion its a fact.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.

Can you substantiate this claim with any kind of proof?


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 11:50 a.m.

All though I am for right-to-work what Mush Room is saying makes about elected officials at Wayne State and University of Michigan sense to me. My fear is these union contracts/labor agreements done before right-to-work will be re-opened before they end if the economy comes back stronger than it is now because the works will want more money. As a taxpayer until the state colleges and university except "all" Michigan tax paying people as "students" I also like the idea of a 10% savings while union contracts/labor agreements are being negotiated before they receive my tax dollars.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

How could UM accept "all" Michigan tax paying people as students, including those who don't know the difference between "except" and "accept", and still be a world-class university?


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 11:21 a.m.

I find it strange that the big government people in AA are against big government solutions. I also find it strange that people who are not in unions follow in lockstep with union bosses that only care about union power not their workers.

Ivor Ivorsen

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

What exactly is a "union boss"? Union leadership is elected at the local and state level by the members. Saying "Union Boss" makes about as much sense as saying "congress boss." Sounds like you need to scale back on the Rush and Hannity in the afternoon.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

Huh, I wonder why the union negotiated raises and the workers voted FOR that contract? Maybe it is because the workers found it to be fine? Do you have some proof that UM union bosses care more about power than the people they represent? Something other than Talking Points you hear from Media Elites?


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 10:43 a.m.

This is a prime example of how the State of Michigan would benefit from a part-time legislature...these people have too much time on their hands. The old saying is proven once again...idle hands are the devil's playground. If these people had to really work at a real job, they might have a better understanding of what is really important business for the State of Michigan.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 5:08 a.m.

You have to forgive the Republicans for either not reading or not understanding our State Constitution, particularly the concept of autonomy.

An Arborigine

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 2:34 a.m.

Typical of "Government of the People", oops, I mean wealthy people.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 2:15 a.m.

Republican big government can't help but meddle.

Mush Room

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 1:12 a.m.

$1.43 billion for higher education, probably over $2 billion for prisons. This will give Michigan the worst higher ed to corrections ratio in the country. Another round of usurping control from elected officials. Wayne State and University of Michigan have elected boards, boards elected by all Michigan voters. Our state constitution gives these boards the authority to govern these schools and only these boards. When the legislature micro manages in the ways proposed by Republicans in the House, they violate our constitution and drive yet another nail into our democracy coffin.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 3:09 a.m.

@Usual suspect, GThat is making the assumption that all the people in there are guilty of a cime (not the case) and that their sentences are fair. Putting marijuana users in prisons with rapists and murderes, does NOT reduce crime. Michigan does not have the highest crime rate int he country, and the US does not either, but this country is run by the prison industrial complex which makes money for a LOT of corporations.

Usual Suspect

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 2:41 a.m.

"This will give Michigan the worst higher ed to corrections ratio in the country." That can easily be fixed. People can simply stop committing crimes. It's not very complicated.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 11:22 p.m.

You know those Big-Government Republicans. First they're in your bedroom, then they're in your boardroom.


Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 11:27 p.m.

Sounds like a dumacrat .

Susie Q

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 11:42 p.m.

AND, they're in your doctor's office with you, at the pharmacy, and in your counseling sessions. So much for their claim that they're all about "freedoms".


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 11:21 p.m.

I doubt that a policy that exacts a penalty for entering into contracts based on CURRENT LAW would ever hold up in court.