W. Michigan forum, DeVos family target pension reform

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — In a rare public address, Amway President Doug DeVos announced that attendees at the West Michigan Policy Forum ranked restructuring government employees’ pension and other retirement benefits as the No. 1 priority in Michigan policy.

In the past, the powerful DeVos family and others have helped persuade the Republican-controlled Legislature to make Michigan a right-to-work state and reform the state’s business tax system.

“And we take these (votes) very seriously; we move them forward with all of our might,” DeVos said. “Obviously, all of you felt that we need to go in a different direction.”

Attendees at the Grand Rapids policy forum on Monday voted in favor of restructuring government employees’ retirement benefits to a 401(k)-style benefit plan, which lessens the financial burden on the government employer and requires employees to contribute more money to their retirement plans.

Groups will likely lobby GOP lawmakers to make pension reforms for local governments happen.

“I think you can kind of get a good feel from there about where we’re going,” DeVos said.

“And our group is pretty simple,” he continued. “We can only have about five topics we can deal with” at a time. “What this does, is it sends a message to all of our elected officials. It helps clarify the issues.”

The DeVos family is a major donor to Michigan and national and Republican causes.

In the months leading up to the August primary, the DeVos family funded two of the state’s top six most active political action committees, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. That’s $1.45 million in contributions to state candidates, PACs and Republican organizations.

DeVos did not speak long. He introduced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson — a former Democratic congressman, United Nations ambassador and energy secretary — for a discussion over cocktails after a day chock-full of policy discussions.

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