House approves funds, still in jeopardy
Michigan state representative Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, addresses the audience on Tuesday at the Capitol. The state’s subcommittee on Higher Education approved a tentative $31.3 million increase for university funding. Adam Toolin/The State News
Although a House subcommittee approved a 2 percent funding increase for Michigan universities Tuesday, funding could be at risk if unions enter new contracts before the right-to-work law takes effect in about a week.
The Michigan Legislature’s House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education approved budget increases that would mean about 2 percent more in funding for MSU, or about $5 million, for university funding, a 4-3 vote in favor of the Republican majority.
Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal would increase funding about 1 percent for MSU.
Under the committee’s budget, MSU will receive a funding increase as long as it does not raise tuition more than 3 percent, among other requirements.
“This budget protects Michigan students from burdensome tuition increases by creating incentives for the universities to hold tuition down,” said state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, chair of the subcommittee.
However, additions to the bill’s language could put funding for universities in jeopardy if schools attempt to establish new labor contracts prior to when the right-to-work law takes effect March 28.
Michigan lawmakers passed the right-to-work bill in December, which granted employees the ability to opt out of joining unions at their workplace.
Hundreds protested at the Capitol last December, concerned that employees will be able to receive the benefits of collective bargaining without paying union dues.
The House’s budget bill would cut funding by 15 percent at institutions that sign labor contracts prior to March 28 in an attempt to avert the effects of right-to-work legislation.
Some Republicans believe allowing unions to make new contracts is skirting around what the legislature is trying to accomplish with the right-to-work law.
Some Democrats feel unions should be free to develop new contracts because the right-to-work law has yet to take effect.
Subcomittee Democrats moved to delete this section, but the Republican-led committee struck down the amendment, 4-3.
“We’ve had an opportunity over the last few months to be actually positioning higher education institutions to be actually working with their labor unions to reduce costs,” state Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said. “Today, we decided to move politics ahead of good policy.”
Penny Gardner, president of the Union of Nontenure-Track Faculty at MSU and an assistant professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures, said proposing to prohibit unions from creating new contracts ahead of March 28 is the state legislature’s way of “bullying and threatening” unions into compliance.
Gardner said her union considered developing a new contract prior to the deadline, but figured the university wouldn’t have a reason to create a new contract.
She said she also heard unions would be punished and didn’t feel it was worth the energy.
MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said MSU currently has no open union contracts and the university will honor all existing contracts.
Wayne State University already ratified a new union contract, and a University of Michigan union hopes to ratify a new five-year agreement this Thursday.
Pscholka spoke against Wayne State’s action, stating it was “dancing around state law” to implement pay increases that might fall on the backs of students in the form of tuition increases.
Although the university has been planning for about a 2 percent increase in funding, the additional conditions in the bill and the potential for reduced funding might come as a blow to both the university and students footing the bill.
“Whether you take the governor’s recommendation or you take the House recommendation without any penalties associated with right-to-work, we are in the zone for the planning that we did for FY14,” Simon said at Tuesday’s Steering Committee meeting. “If there is a penalty imposed for right-to-work or we don’t meet the tuition numbers, then that situation becomes much more fragile.”
Staff reporter Samantha Radecki contributed to this report.