Bieber: Shine a light on state contracts

Ron Bieber

When it comes to transparency and ethics in state government, Michigan is 50 out of 50. Dead last. That’s according to a new report from the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity.

Out of the 13 different categories the report examined — including public access to information, political financing, lobbying disclosure, and ethics enforcement — Michigan had 10 Fs, and an overall score of 51 out of 100. That’s worse than scandal-plagued states like New Jersey, Louisiana, and Illinois – where four of the past seven governors have ended up in prison.

The report, authored by veteran Michigan journalist Chad Selweski, said “Conflicts of interest and potential public corruption remain buried in an honor system with no honor.”

Michigan was specifically cited for “dark money” election loopholes, weak or nonexistent disclosure laws, legislative and administrative exemption from freedom of information laws, and a lack of strong “revolving door” laws to prevent elected and government officials from joining lobbying firms.

Michigan’s government should work for the people, not just the corporate CEOs and lobbyists who have enough money to buy political influence in Lansing. Taxpayers deserve a state government that is honest, open and accountable.

Fixing these deeply ingrained problems won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But it’s time for the legislature to take action.

Legislators can start by passing new bipartisan sunshine legislation to strengthen accountability and transparency in state contracting, including House Bills 4186 and 4700-4705, sponsored by Representatives Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, John Kivela, D-Marquette, Pam Faris, D-Clio, and Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township.

These bipartisan bills are designed to ensure that Michigan taxpayers are getting the most bang for their buck when it comes to state contracting, which accounts for billions of dollars from the state budget.

The package includes legislation that would make it easier to track how many jobs are created or maintained by contractors and require wage rate information and accounting records to be posted on the state’s website.

Another bill would make large contracts subject to Freedom of Information laws and require the state to submit a detailed report on the impact state contracts have on local businesses, jobs, as well as any possible loss of tax revenue for local communities.

In an effort to prevent another failed privatization contract like the one with disgraced prison food contractor Aramark, the package includes a bill that would require the state to submit a detailed cost-benefit analysis that includes the cost of oversight. It would also prevent privatization from moving forward until the state considers recommendations for changes in work processes and cost savings from existing state employees — the people who are actually serving taxpayers on the front lines.

In 2010, Rick Snyder pledged to make Michigan “a national leader in transparency and ethics.” Based on the CIT report, it’s pretty clear we still have a long way to go. That’s why these new bills are so important.

Michigan used to be a national leader when it came to our ethics and transparency laws. Being ranked 50 out of 50 is simply unacceptable.

When it comes to cleaning up public corruption, sunshine is the best disinfectant. To protect taxpayers, it’s time for both parties in Lansing to shine some light on state contracting by passing these sunshine laws.

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.