Michigan board blocks Nov. vote on takeover law

Set up to help schools, cities with heavy debt

LANSING, Mich. — A state board Thursday deadlocked on a proposal to put Michigan’s contentious emergency financial manager law on November’s ballot for possible repeal, dealing a major blow to a petition drive sparked in part by the state’s deal to fix Detroit’s troubled city finances.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers cast a 2-2 party-line vote, effectively ending repeal efforts for now, even as supporters collected more than 203,000 signatures, far above the 161,305 needed to put the measure to the ballot.

The two Republicans on the board voted against the ballot measure while the two Democrats voted in favor. If the vote in favor of the referendum had passed, the state’s emergency financial manager law would be suspended, leaving several cities and school districts in limbo and raising concerns among some in Detroit where a newly approved consent agreement was linked to the emergency law.

Repeal supporters can now seek review from a state Court of Appeals, which could order Michigan’s secretary of state to overturn the tie and put the ballot initiative before voters on Nov. 6.

The most current version of the emergency financial manager law, which became effective last year, gives the state broad powers to intervene when cities or municipalities cannot handle their finances. The law allows Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to appoint emergency managers as a way to move fiscally troubled cities as well as school systems, into the black.

Emergency managers are in place in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights public schools, and the cities of Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac and Ecorse.

The city of Detroit was able to avoid the state appointment of an emergency manager under an agreement reached early this month to put its finances under stricter control by the state.

But portions of that deal, known as a consent agreement, are tied to the 2011 emergency manager law, known as Public Act 4. Those provisions include exempting Detroit from collective bargaining with its unions, according to Eric Scorsone, an assistant professor of economics at Michigan State University.

“To me that’s a huge part of this agreement,” Mr. Scorsone he said.

About 100 supporters of the measure stood and repeatedly shouted, “Shame!” at the board, pointing angry fingers after the vote. Several people singled out Republican members Norm Shinkle and Jeff Timmer.

“We’re tied by the letter of the law her, and that’s how we have to vote,” Mr. Timmer said.

The repeal effort, Stand Up for Democracy, received strong backing from state unions. The emergency financing law has angered some labor leaders because of the increased control it gives the new managers to end collective-bargaining agreements and union contracts.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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