The Mackinac Center for Public Policy gives Governor Engler high marks for the following positions and initiatives he took in 1992:
For the second year in a row, he tackled and resolved a serious budget deficit without raising taxes. That's another way of saying that he managed the state's finances without making it more difficult for citizens to manage theirs – and that's an essential ingredient in reviving hope, opportunity and jobs for Michigan.
Despite strong pressure from within both the legislature and his own administration, he refused to endorse boosts in either the gasoline tax or the cigarette tax.
He has almost completely redirected the activities of the Commerce Department, away from the sort of "industrial policy" of endless and dubious subsidy programs that characterized the 1980s and toward one which emphasizes "a fair field and no favor."
As General Motors deliberated over the fate of its Willow Run plant, the Governor held firm on his plan to replace selective favors, subsidies and tax breaks for particular, politically-favored firms with a general reduction in the overall burden of government in the state. He refused to get into a futile and counterproductive bidding war with other states.
He pushed hard for his "cut and cap" proposal at the polls. Though that effort failed when special interests mounted an expensive and deceptive campaign to defeat the measure, the outcome was neither a repudiation of the Governor nor a signal from voters that they no longer want property tax relief. The Governor can now achieve a substantial property tax cut via the legislative route, given the likely working majority he should have in the House of Representatives.
He has implemented reductions in the onerous Single Business Tax by raising the threshold at which a business is required to file and pay SBT.
He put in place one of the boldest welfare reform plans in the nation, designed to encourage recipients to work their way off public assistance, strengthen families, keep children in school, and save taxpayers' money.
Though the progress has been glacial, he has prodded the state's education establishment in the direction of greater choice and accountability, and he has pushed for needed revisions in teacher tenure and certification rules.
With varying degrees of success, he has sought to advance enterprise zones, liability reform, departmental reorganization, trucking deregulation, and renewed voluntarism in Michigan communities.
Since taking office, he has overseen a reduction in the state's permanent work force of 8.4 percent, from 64,400 two years ago to approximately 59,000 today. He has successfully negotiated agreements with virtually all of the state's classified civil service employees that restrain wage and benefit costs, in part by introducing incentives for employees to assist in controlling those costs for the first time.
He has demonstrated real leadership by his aggressive use of executive powers in reorganizing the executive branch of government. In the past two years, he has done more in this regard than perhaps any other governor. He has abolished one of Michigan's 19 principal departments (Licensing and Regulation), eliminated the Corrections Commission and assumed direct responsibility for the Michigan prison system, moved to provide accountability and responsiveness in the Department of Natural Resources, and eliminated the plethora of cabinet councils of the previous administration.
He has put the Michigan Education Trust on ice (no new contracts were sold in 1992) and proposed tax-free bonds as a better way to help parents save for their children's college education. As pointed out in a 1990 Mackinac Center report, MET was a seriously flawed program that needed to be either scrapped or privatized.
He vetoed an interventionist auto insurance "reform" bill which would have vastly increased regulation of a competitive market, caused good drivers to pay higher premiums so that bad ones could pay less, and mandated rate reductions without any corresponding reductions in claim payments.
He has publicly supported – on more than one difficult occasion – the North American Free Trade Agreement, understanding the job-creating potential that free and competitive international trade can bring.
He vetoed a bill that would have allowed legislators (as well as the governor) to retire earlier than under current law at a cost of $4.5 million a year.
In what could prove to be the start of a revolutionary change in the way the state does its business, he has pursued the privatization option for making government less costly. By pushing for privatization of the Accident Fund, moving to contract out more services within departments, and creating the Michigan Public/Private Partnership Commission, Governor Engler has put Michigan on the very cutting edge of the national privatization movement. By aggressively implementing recommendations of his Task Force on Contractual Personal Services, he has demonstrated a sensitivity to privatizing sensibly and with appropriate safeguards against abuse.
On November 14,1990, The Mackinac Center released a twenty-point advisory document entitled, "Road Map for a Michigan Renaissance" (copies available upon request). It suggested a short list of 20 items for the incoming governor to place on his reform agenda. In reviewing the Engler record against the program advocated in that document, we find that nearly all of those 20 items have indeed been accomplished or at least endorsed by the Governor.