Column: Q&A with state Rep. Dian Slavens: Eliminate retiree health care benefit for all current lawmakers
Some of our state lawmakers made a courageous move this past week, approving legislation that would slash lifetime health care for themselves and their families. The House bill, which still must be approved by the Senate, would eliminate the state paid health care insurance for retired lawmakers, a perk the Michigan Legislature has enjoyed since the 1950s. However, the measure would impact only lawmakers elected after January 2007.
State Rep. Dian Slavens, D-Canton, had been trying to enact a tougher bill that called for further cuts. She talked with me on 1290 WLBY shortly before the House vote.
Rep. Slavens: So many of our citizens are having to share the sacrifices for our state. I really feel now is the time more than ever that we, as legislators, give up our perks also. Lucy Ann: We pay out more than $5 million a year for the state legislators’ health benefits.
Rep. Slavens: That’s right. We’re taking money away from our children’s schools unnecessarily. That money was there to be kept in the K-12 and they pushed that out. We’re now taxing our senior citizens. We’re pushing our middle-class, hardworking folks. What have we legislators sacrificed? Absolutely nothing. I think it’s time we step up to the plate and do just that.
Lucy Ann: Perhaps, but some of your colleagues would say, “We just took a 10 percent pay cut.”
Rep. Slavens: That’s not enough. I don’t know anywhere where you can work six years and get lifetime health care benefits paid for. It’s just ridiculous.
Lucy Ann: What did your original bill hope to do?
Rep. Slavens: What my bill would do is get rid of lifetime health care benefits for anybody who’s in office currently. The difference is that the weaker bill allows anybody elected into office 2007 and earlier (to keep these benefits.) There are a few House representatives and many of the senators who would continue to get this perk, and that is not shared sacrifices. We need all of us, both in the House and the Senate, to share the sacrifices that all of the Michigan citizens are doing right now.
Lucy Ann: What about health care for those who are currently in office? Do you think there’s going to be any movement to get you to pay more into your health care like many other public sector and private businesses have had to do?
Rep. Slavens: Absolutely. Rep. Lisa Brown does have a bill where we would pay 25 percent of our health care costs and hopefully that bill will get passed.
Only 17 states provide retirement health care benefits to legislators with most requiring them to pay the premiums. In previous bills calling for cuts to retired lawmakers’ health care the Michigan House and Senate never passed the same version, stalling any progress. That makes one question just how serious lawmakers really are about cutting their own benefits. All the more reason to track House Bill 4087 as it advances to the Michigan Senate.
Lucy Ann Lance co-owns Lance & Erskine Communications, which produces “The Lucy Ann Lance Business Insider” (M-F, 8 a.m.-11 a.m.) and “The Lucy Ann Lance Show” (Saturdays, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.) on 1290 WLBY. The programs are live streamed at www.1290WLBY.com, and podcast on www.lucyannlance.com. The above interview is a condensed version of a longer conversation that is edited for clarity. The complete audio interview is posted online at www.lucyannlance.com.