Michigan Court Battle Over Paycheck Withdrawals Continues

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A suit that started five years ago and was brought to court by the Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan is seeking to return money that plaintiffs claim was illegally taken from the paychecks of more than 200,000 Michigan public school employees.

Between the years 2010 and 2012, over $550 million was removed. That money was intended to help fund health care for retirees, although there was no guarantee that workers would receive the benefit.

After the state lost, appealed, and lost again, the trial court and the Court of Appeals agreed that taking 3% of employee’s wages violated state and federal regulations concerning the preservation of property and due process. Then the state’s Supreme Court heard the case and after two years sent it back to the Court of Appeals, which made a favorable decision for school workers in June.

But Gov. Rick Snyder has announced that he will appeal the decision from the Court of Appeals. Steven Cook of The Detroit News says after five years of legal wrangling, the governor’s appeal is both “misguided and mean-spirited.’

Even Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette refused to represent the governor in his appeal. But Schuette did fight to keep school workers from getting what was legally theirs during the three cases and appeals.

The Detroit Free Press’s Paul Egan quoted Snyder’s spokesperson Anna Heaton from a statement made earlier this month:

“These payments are necessary for the long-term financial stability of the retirement system teachers rely on for health care benefits after their years of hard work come to a close. Keeping the money in the system will help their investments continue to grow and benefit Michigan educators for decades to come.”

Cheryl Farver, a retired social worker, joined over 40 active and retired school employees who were protesting at the governor’s office this week, and said:

“Again and again, Governor Snyder has treated school employees as political punching bags. It’s a waste of our tax dollars to keep asking the court to reconsider their decisions. Perhaps Governor Snyder should take 3% of his own salary … to pay for these frivolous legal costs.”

The funds that were collected over a two-year period are still in an interest-bearing escrow account and will remain there until the case is finally settled, reports WOOD-TV.

In June, Snyder applauded a $16.14 billion education budget and signed it into law. Jonathan Oosting, writing for The Detroit News, says the governor explained that the $2.5 million in new assistance for private schools in the fiscal year 2017 might be facing legal concerns.

The education budget is 2% higher than last year’s version even though there were revenue projection reductions in May that made lawmakers and the governor lower some original spending proposals for K-12 public schools, community colleges, and universities.

Groups that advocate for public schools, however, have asked Snyder to eliminate the private school funding by using a line-item veto. The supporters say such a use of monies for private schools violates the state constitution’s prohibition on subsidizing private schools. The constitution also bans vouchers.