Michigan, along with many other debt-ridden states across the country, is seeking to drastically cut spending. Since assuming office in 2011, Governor Rick Snyder has launched a swift and vicious series of spending cuts with the support of Republican majorities in both state legislatures.
Drastic cuts to K-12 and higher education, reduced eligibility for food stamps, increasing taxes on pensions, reducing the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit and giving tax breaks to businesses have all been adopted under Snyder, and all claim to reduce our state’s budget deficit or stimulate economic growth.
These measures make little economic sense. Reducing the incomes of the elderly and the working class, groups that are most likely to spend any more disposable income they are given, only impedes growth. Besides being economically unsound, these policies are simply unfair, placing most of the state’s budget burden on the elderly, the poor and our children, while giving tax breaks to wealthy business owners.
Reducing educational opportunities for Michigan’s children and attacking our state’s most financially disadvantaged residents during a time of economic hardship? That’s not all! Legislators in Lansing have found another marginalized community to burden with our state’s budget woes: same-sex couples. House Bill 4770 (which easily passed the Michigan House of Representatives in September and is now being considered by the Senate) will eliminate domestic partner benefits for all state employees. If the bill passes, healthcare and other benefits will only be available to the legal spouses and children of state employees.
Michigan does not recognize domestic partnerships legally, though public employers are given discretion over who can receive employer benefits. The state currently spends around $8 million annually to cover domestic partners. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples benefit from this provision, which allows any two people living together for a set period of time to receive benefits.
This is particularly relevant to the University of Michigan, where 618 employees are in domestic partnerships. University officials and professors predict devastating consequences to the university community if the legislation passes the Senate. Annarbor.com recently interviewed U of M professors who would be affected by the legislation. Many professors worried that the legislation would cause a “mass exodus” of professors from the university.
Take Andries Coetzee, a UM linguistics professor. Coetzee has been living with his partner, Gary Woodall, for over seven years. Woodall suffers from a rare form of cancer that recently went into remission. Without university healthcare, Coetzee and Woodall wouldn’t be able to afford the treatment, so Coetzee is searching for a job elsewhere. Since most other top-tier universities and private companies extend benefits to domestic partners, the legislation would make the University of Michigan a less desirable work place for certain professors.
The state of Michigan should be doing all it can to retain residents. Denying benefits to people who are clearly members of an employee’s family is indefensible, especially when this involves the targeting of and discrimination against same-sex couples. There are limits to what Michigan should do to cut our state’s deficit. Promoting discrimination against same-sex couples—even if it saved the state $80 billion—crosses the line.
By: Matt Guisinger
(Photo by Angela J. Cesere courtesy of AnnArbor.com)