There was a time when Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon’s current health care plan for state employees would have had no chance in the Legislature.
But this is 2009, and the 46-year-old Wayne County Democrat from Redford, in his second term as speaker, has come up with an intriguing proposal. This week Dillon was expected to introduce legislation that would put Michigan’s 400,000 public employees, including educators, into a single program.
As it stands now, hundreds of governmental and school entities have a variety of plans. Dillon and his supporters say that $900 million a year can be saved from a state budget that is constitutionally required to be balanced. That won’t be easy, as the state’s anticipated budget deficit is now hovering around $2.8 billion.
The Legislature is duty-bound to approve a new budget by Oct. 1. In the past, the Legislature has skirted that responsibility by adopting short-term continuation budgets.
The Dillon program would be managed by a 13-member panel that would decide which plans would be offered and how much they would cost.
It’s different, and refreshing to the citizenry, to see an elected official in a position of power come up with an idea he certainly knew would be viewed with skepticism by some lawmakers in his own party, and by groups representing special interests. At the moment, Gov. Jennifer Granholm is cool to the Dillon initiative.
Labor unions such as the Michigan Education Association are far from ecstatic over Dillon’s initiative. Opponents fear that their benefits will be diluted.
However, the reality is that Michigan’s economic climate cannot forever sustain what the state’s public employees have taken for granted. The recession that continues to grip our nation has been especially painful in Michigan, which still leads the country in unemployment.
Clearly, something has to give. During the past few years this newspaper has been critical of the Legislature for dragging its feet in facing up to fiscal problems, and for failure to bite bullets and come up with budgets on time.
Thus, Dillon’s plan deserves a hard look. It’s an idea that appears to have support on both sides of the aisle. Partisan squabbling has been a significant part of prior impasses.
Key provisions of the Dillon proposal include:
• Appointment of most of the plan’s board members by the governor.
• Opening the plan to the private sector.
• Requiring a governmental unit wishing to withdraw from the plan to demonstrate to the board that its own program would cost at least 5 percent less than that of the state.
• Allowing governmental units to keep the health care contract they would have on Jan. 1 of next year, but change to the state plan when theirs expires.
• Payment for the plan through a single fund to which all participating units would contribute. Moreover, the state’s general fund could not be tapped.
• Unions and governments would maintain their collective bargaining rights on which of the recommended plans governments will offer, how much the governments and their employees will contribute to the cost of the plan and which of the governments’ employees are eligible for benefits.
We’re a long way from taking sides on this issue, which requires much discussion, explanation and debate.
We are, however, encouraged that the Dillon plan is an indication that the Legislature is acting boldly and coming up with new ideas.
And quite frankly, we’re especially interested in an idea that could offer efficiencies and save the taxpayers a sum approaching a billion dollars.
— KALAMAZOO GAZETTE