Sen. Marty Knollenberg
Sen. Marty Knollenberg

LANSING — The state Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that would prevent union lobbyists from misusing taxpayer money.

Senate Bill 279, introduced by state Sen. Marty Knollenberg, addresses a loophole allowing union officials to dramatically inflate personal retirement payouts from the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) based on their union salary.

MPSERS funds the retirement benefits for Michigan’s public school teachers and employees and is currently underfunded by $26 billion.

Knollenberg’s second bill, SB 280, would stop the practice of using taxpayer money that would have otherwise gone to teacher salaries and the classroom to pay for lobbying activities.

“It is important to note that these agreements between unions and school districts are not illegal. However, they are most certainly unethical. Inflating public school pensions based on union salaries is only hurting a program that is already severely underfunded,” said Knollenberg, R-Troy. “We need to close this loophole and make sure MPSERS benefits go only to those they are intended for — public school teachers and employees.”

The issue began earlier in the year when news reports alleged that Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA), was the beneficiary of a deal between the Lansing School District and the MEA allowing Cook to remain a member of the state’s pension system for school employees while working full-time as president of the private union.

Under the deal, the Lansing School District contributed $51,976 to MPSERS on behalf of Cook, a sum much larger than what he would have obtained in his previous position with the district.

“Each dollar these school districts spend on union lobbyists is a dollar taken from classrooms,” Knollenberg said. “This does not affect the ability of unions to collectively bargain or represent their members. It simply says taxpayers should not be footing the bill for union activity.”

SBs 279 and 280 now go before the Michigan House of Representatives for consideration.