The late Joseph Overton was senior vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy at the time of his passing in 2003. Overton played a key role in establishing the Center as a growing, productive and influential think tank through his direction of its research projects, staff operations and strategic planning. He also authored a variety of Center studies and commentaries. His model of public policy change, posthumously named the "Overton Window," has gained national currency following his passing.

His tremendous contributions to the Mackinac Center and the free-market movement ended with his untimely death on June 30, 2003, in an ultralight airplane crash.

Overton had a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Michigan Technological University and a juris doctor from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He was a member of the State Bar of Michigan and was appointed by Gov. John Engler to the Michigan Appellate Defender Commission upon recommendation by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Before joining the Mackinac Center, Overton held a variety of positions at The Dow Chemical Company, including electrical engineer, project manager, and quality specialist.

Overton studied and promoted free-market principles for more than a decade. He also traveled broadly, visiting Poland, Nicaragua, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Colombia, Malawi, Mozambique, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, India and the People's Republic of China.

By Joseph P. Overton

Michigan Public School Teachers Launch a Non-Union Revolution

Mr. Smith Is in Washington

Too many people continue to invest in the fanciful hope-call it the Frank Capra Theory-that someday Mr. Smith will go to Washington, end the corruption, and restore our liberties. … more

Michigan Public School Teachers Launch a Non-Union Revolution

Public schools and their employees don't win many battles against the Michigan Education Association (MEA) union, the political and financial behemoth that dominates Michigan public education. But recent victories over compulsory unionism in two charter schools could signal a new dynamic in Michigan's public school system. … more

Listening to Truth

As proponents of central planning weave new and seductive visions of political society, we need calm and reasoned scholarship to speak the truth in defense of liberty. … more

Advancing People and Privatization

Privatization is a major vehicle through which Michigan can transform itself from a coercive, politicized society whose outstanding trait is its voluntarism and resourcefulness in solving problems on its own. … more

Advancing Privatization and People

At its core, privatization is about people. It is about government being considerate of its constituents by a) funding only those functions that it absolutely has to through the onerous mechanism of taxation, and b) if it enters into areas it should not be in in the first place, it should work in the most cost-effective way possible. … more

Vouchers or Tax Credits for Full School Choice?

Does Giving Government Unlimited Power Really Protect the Environment

The Michigan Legislature recently gave the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality carte blanche to impose staggering fines on property owners for alleged environmental violations. This is a terrible idea given the department's past abuses. … more

Westwood Letter

Dear Members of the Westwood Board of Education: It has come to our attention that your district is suing the state of Michigan to prevent parents and children from choosing schools outside your district. You are concerned that the schools-of-choice program that the Mackinac Center for Public Policy helped establish is leading to increased segregation in your district. … more

Targeted Corporate Incentives Do More Harm than Good

A Tax Credit Is Not a Voucher!

Opponents of school choice for Michigan's children are misrepresenting tuition tax credits in order to recycle their shopworn anti-voucher arguments. … more

School Reform: Giving Parents “Credit”

The Universal Tuition Tax Credit: A Proposal to Advance Parental Choice in Education

This pathbreaking approach to expanding parental choice in education embodies a proposal to amend the Michigan constitution and establish a Universal Tuition Tax Credit (UTTC). The tax credit would offset a portion of private or public school tuition and would be claimed against state tax liabilities. In addition to improving education, the UTTC would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Unlike other tax credit plans, the UTTC would help needy families with low state tax liabilities by encouraging the creation of corporate scholarships to offset tuition costs not covered by the UTTC. The per-student credit could be claimed against the Michigan tax liability of any person or corporation. Unlike vouchers, the UTTC would not allow state funds to support religious schools, would not drain funds from the public schools, and would not spawn new entitlements or overregulation of private schools. The study includes detailed fiscal models, a discussion of school choice, a history of Michigan's constitutional impediments to education reform, and proposed language for a constitutional amendment. 76 pages … more

Changing Michigan's Constitution: An Idea Whose Time has Come

Other states are racing past Michigan in improving education by giving parents freedom to choose schools. A Universal Tuition Tax Credit and constitutional amendment can keep Michigan from lagging behind. … more

The Big Picture: Civil Society & Privatization

Advancing Civil Society: A State Budget to Strengthen Michigan Culture

At its core, the budget of the state of Michigan is not about money-it is about people and the way they organize their society. This line-by-line analysis of Michigan's 1995-96 state budget reflects a principled vision for Michigan culture by asking this question about each budget item: Should this program or activity be done by the authority of the state and financed by taxes, or should it be done by its individual citizens acting in voluntary cooperation and private contract with one another? The study recommends over $2 billion in spending reductions (over 7 percent of the state budget) achieved by eliminating unnecessary and counterproductive programs, rolling back unjustified program growth, and contracting out for services that can be handled more efficiently by the private sector. This landmark analysis will help citizens, candidates, and officials of any state craft budgets that promote the strengthening of private institutions and civil society. 97 pages. … more

Juvenile Justice Requries Juvenile Responsibility

Shocking juvenile violent crime trends will not reverse until local communities are given wider latitude to ensure certainty of punishment and other deterrents to criminal behavior. … more

Lessons from Outrageous Laws

The laws uncovered by the Mackinac Center's Outrageous Law Competition will make you chuckle. Underlying them are two serious lessons which teach us about government's response to crises and the role of special interests. … more

The Prison Boom: New Options for Michigan

The prison business is booming in Michigan-fifteen percent of the General Fund. Can taxpayers afford the bills that mount from business as usual? Michigan can save hundreds of millions of dollars by trying what other states are already doing. … more

MEGA Problems: A New Industrial Policy Bureaucracy

In a stunning retreat from free-market principles, Governor Engler asks Michigan to join the bandwagon of states in which government picks the industrial winners and losers. The MEGA plan will not work, and may have unintended negative consequences. … more

MEGA Industrial Policy: An Analysis of the Proposed Michigan Economic Growth Authority

Michigan has seen stellar economic progress due to Governor Engler's free-market reforms. Is MEGA a reversal of the trend? Should government pick the winners and the losers? This report analyzes proposed MEGA legislation. 16 pages. … more

Should Michigan Become a Right-to-Work State?

Labor reform that brings Michigan law up-to-date is not something to be feared. Giving workers freedom of choice in union membership would be a plus for the Michigan economy. … more

Political Drift or Paradigm Shift?

During the elections of 1994, the voters spoke with uncommon clarity about the role of government in their lives. Governor John Engler was re-elected to be a risk-taker, not a caretaker. In this advisory document, the Mackinac Center recommends several specific measures for education reform, labor law reform, and economic development. 5 pages. … more

"Discrimination" at Private Clubs in Michigan

What was conceived as a protection for women in Michigan country clubs has become another entry on a long list of meddlesome and ultimately counterproductive restrictions on personal freedom. … more

The Other Educational Choice

Exempting Michigan's public school teachers from the Public Employment Relations Act would resolve the strike issue, remove barriers union policies have erected, and open the door for the advancement of good teachers. … more

MESSA: Insurance for Political Power

In more than 300 of Michigan's 524 K-12 public school districts, costly health insurance for school employees is administered by an organization whose practices are secretive and monopolistic. … more

Send the Cash, Keep the Change

Genuine school reformers say, "Change the system so schools can work better, and we will be happy to fund them." Unfortunately, many of those in the government education monopoly say, "Send the cash, keep the change." … more

Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine

This exhaustive report illuminates the inner workings of the Michigan Education Association's health insurance division, known as MESSA. It documents how tens of millions of the public's education tax dollars are wasted each year on uncompetitive teacher health insurance, and how MESSA is part of a systematic plan to subsidize the MEA's basic operation and political activity. 64 pages. … more

A Closer Look at Proposals A and C

The two property tax proposals on the November 1992 Michigan ballot provide a glaring distinction: one is a property tax cut and the other is not. Proposal C, despite one drawback, represents the best hope in years for real property tax reduction. … more

Global Warming: Can Politicians Take the Heat?

Public policy on the environment should not be driven by "bad" science or the absence of good science. Politicians must weigh the evidence and reject emotion, propaganda, and hidden agendas in the global warming debate. … more

Keeping the Engler Revolution on Track

This analysis of Governor Engler's first year in office gives the governor high marks for balancing the state's budget without a tax hike. The governor is urged not to shrink from the politics of constructive confrontation with legislative "big spenders." Includes a review of his first year in light of the Road Map for a Michigan Renaissance, issued by the Mackinac Center in November 1990, and makes recommendations for the continued downsizing of state government. 3 pages. … more

New "Civil Rights" for the Handicapped

Efforts to help the handicapped with legislation requiring employers to reconfigure their worksites are another example of good intentions producing bad results. … more