Michigan Votes

The Devil in the Details

Monitoring progress, especially in public policy, is often in the details. 

Last year two Impact articles described “25 Reforms in 2011” and “17 for ’12: Legislature Keeps up Reform Pace.” Among the momentous changes listed were a new right-to-work law, business tax cuts and reform, eliminating artificial caps on the number of charter schools, limiting government and school employee health benefits, corporate welfare cuts, increasing the power of municipal emergency managers, repealing a state “item pricing” law.

In contrast, a scan of new laws passed so far in 2013 reveals nothing approaching the same magnitude. Perhaps the most important change was a complex measure that Mackinac Center analysts did not regard as a “reform”: Granting Blue Cross Blue Shield its long-held desire to be freed of the extra scrutiny that came with being the state’s “insurer of last resort.”

A new law establishing minimum standards for court-appointed lawyers for indigent criminal defendants does count as an important and unambiguous
reform, if one that will affect far fewer people. Far less impactful for most are new laws revising property tax breaks for forest property owners, limiting local government “capture” of regional property tax levies imposed for the Detroit zoo and art museum, imposing sanctions on liquor and lottery dealers who accept food stamps, and subsidies for private marina dredging.

In a way this is not surprising, because the 2011-2012 Michigan Legislature was unique in several ways. It was heavily influenced by the surge of ethical populism culminating in the “Tea Party election” of 2010. This wasn’t limited to Michigan: Don’t forget the union-reform drama in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin in early 2011, and the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote on the “Ryan Budget” with its major market-oriented reforms in the federal Medicare program, long considered a “third rail” of politics, that is, untouchable.

Moreover, for the first time since 2002, in 2011 the GOP held all the marbles in state government – House, Senate and a Republican governor. After eight years of Democratic Gov. Jenifer Granholm, there was a huge pent-up demand for freemarket friendly reforms among both the grass roots “base” and the businessrelated special interest groups that tend to support Republicans. In the wake of those reforms, a slow period of digestion is not surprising.

No one should feel complacent, however – Michigan isn’t “fixed” yet. In particular, a creeping expansion of government continues, with higher state spending and fee hikes, more state and local “authorities” intruding into our lives and pocketbooks, and as this issue goes to press, a big push to implement Obamacare with a huge expansion of the Medicaid medical welfare program. Now more than ever, eternal vigilance remains the price of liberty.

Jack McHugh is senior legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center.