[Photo of James M. Hohman]

James M. Hohman

Assistant Director of Fiscal Policy

James M. Hohman is assistant director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He holds a degree in economics from Northwood University in Midland, Mich.

State Employee Pay Grows 25 Percent Above Inflation Since 1999

The average state employee compensation package costs approximately $93,039. Inflation-adjusted wages and benefits have increased 25 percent since fiscal 1999. The figures include the value of all benefits from state-paid retirement contributions to dry cleaning allowances. … more

Michigan Film Subsidies: Two Years, $117 Million and No Film Job Growth

It has been two years since Michigan's film subsidy program became law, which is sufficient for it to have gotten off the ground and had some measureable impact on the state's economy. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18 months after its launch there were 9.8 percent fewer people employed by the film industry in Michigan than when the subsidy program began. … more

Facts for Tax Day in Michigan

Today is April 15, the last day to file your 2009 tax return. Protests are happening around the state alleging rampant growth of government, overtaxation and overregulation.
Here are some facts about taxes in Michigan. … more

Michigan Public Employees Compensation Growing Despite Concessions Claims

Spokespersons for Michigan government employee unions contend that they have given up hundreds of millions of dollars in wages and benefit concessions over the past few years. The claims are in dispute, and data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis offers some support for those challenging them. It shows that since 2000, government employee compensation in Michigan has increased 11.4 percent, while private sector employees are getting 5.1 percent less. … more

Michigan Employment and Personal Incomes Better, But…

Two releases from government statistical agencies this week show that the state's economy is still pretty bad, but that its long fall may have finally bottomed out. The state unemployment rate is 14.1 percent, down from its peak. Michigan's per capita personal income was down again, but Michigan was not the worst in the country. … more

New Census Data: Michigan Economy Suffering More Than State Budget

New Census Bureau data published today confirm a trend shown in previous releases: While the amount of tax revenue flowing into the Michigan treasury has fallen, the state's tax trends look brighter than the state's economy. … more

What Transparency Should Look Like at the MEDC (but Doesn't)

The award of a $9.1 million tax credit to a convicted embezzler has raised serious concerns about the lack of transparency at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The concerns could be alleviated by two transparency/due diligence reforms that would protect the state (and taxpayers) from fraud. However, the real issue is not whether the occasional criminal wins an "incentive" deal, but the lack of transparency that characterizes this entire operation. This is the measure by which the responses of politicians and economic development bureaucrats to this embarrassment should assessed. … more

MEGA Jobs Announcements Symbolic Drop in the Bucket

The Michigan Economic Growth Authority yesterday approved its latest batch of tax credits to lure large business projects to Michigan.
Despite the press release, these big business projects are just not that consequential to Michigan's total economy.  … more

Supposed Benefits of Pension Obligation Bonds Sink With Market

Michigan legislators who might consider borrowing billions to prop up government employee pension and post-retirement health care benefits should first look at recent developments in California. That state's massive state pension system, CalPERS, may lower its expectations for investment returns. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is considering a drop in its return expectations from 7.75 percent to as low as 5 or 6 percent. … more

Employment Creation in Michigan Illustrates the Ineffectiveness of the State's Incentives

The latest Business Employment Dynamics numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that from the third quarter of 2008 through the second quarter of 2009, 778,025 jobs were created in Michigan and 1,144,655 jobs disappeared. Among other things, the figures starkly illustrate just how ineffective the state's economic incentive programs are. … more

Service Tax: $1.3 Billion Tax Hike on Thousands of Services

The Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency has performed an initial review of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's executive budget recommendation, which reveals that the proposed service tax would actually raise taxes by $1.3 billion — much more than the $900 million originally reported. … more

Michigan: A National Leader in Tax Hikes

Gov. Jennifer Granholm argues (with some remorse) that during her seven-year tenure, Michigan has cut more from its budget than any other state. The claim is dubious, but another milestone about which she does not boast is verifiable: Since Gov. Granholm's first inauguration in January 2003, Michigan has led the nation in tax increases.
States rely on four major taxes to finance their general operations: income, sales, business and tobacco taxes. Gov. Granholm has signed into law increases in three of these: tobacco taxes in 2004 and business and income taxes in 2007. Only two other states, Maryland and New York, have increased all three of these taxes since 2002. … more

Gubernatorial Fact Check

In presenting her executive budget, Gov. Jennifer Granholm stated, "I have cut more state spending than any governor in Michigan history, having resolved more than $10 billion in deficits since 2003." It's unnecessary to state that one of those budgets was "resolved" with a $1.4 billion tax hike — not exactly cutting more than anyone — but even the $10 billion is an overstatement. … more

Which Would You Choose: Growth or Economic Decline?

No, we wouldn't want to be like Mississippi. Flint wouldn't want to be like Dallas. Those places have like, economic growth and stuff. … more

Michigan’s Brains Remain Constant

The exodus of young and educated young people from Michigan is one of those “clear, simple and wrong” explanations often cited as a factor in Michigan’s poor economic performance. The reality is that young people are already highly mobile even in a good economy, and that even in Michigan’s ongoing bad times, we're actually doing pretty well in attracting college graduates to the state. … more

Governor’s Tax Hike Proposals Increase Already Juiced System

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm introduced a series of tax hikes today to raise more revenue to cover its overspending. But adding a tax hike would increase the revenue to a system that's already giving Lansing more revenue than typical among states. … more

Governor Wrong About Headlee Limits

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm presented her executive budget today. In it, she argues that Michigan needs to raise taxes in the over the next few years because its revenues are far below its constitutional revenue limit. She states, "The gap has grown as a result of the economic downturn and is anticipated to widen further as currently enacted tax changes take effect in the next several years." … more

Don’t Blame Mexico for Michigan’s Problems

In her State of the State address last week, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm listed the reasons why she believes the state's economy has fallen. "We all know the reasons — trade policies that dismantled factories here and built them in Mexico, the auto industry in meltdown, the banking crisis, the mortgage crisis, and on top of all that, a severe national recession." While the latter reasons may have played their part, company and job relocation to Mexico has been the least of Michigan's problems. Furthermore, trade with Mexico has actually been a bright spot for the state. … more

Michigan Unemployment: Topping the Charts for 46 Months

Michigan's unemployment rate of 14.6 percent was the highest in the country, according to today's release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The next closest state was Nevada, which increased to 13.0 percent. … more

Get the Data on Michigan Support Service Contracting

Part of the new Michigan Senate Republicans' spending reform proposal would mandate public school districts to seek competitive bids for food, custodial and transportation services. The Mackinac Center surveys each district annually to see whether they contract out for these services. You can view the 2009 survey results here… more

Beware Michigan Tax “Restructuring”

Lansing policymakers are discussing plans to shift taxes around and are being supported by some faulty observations. Some of them made their way into an op-ed by Susan Demas in The Detroit News. She noted, "Michiganders have gone from paying 9.5 percent of their incomes in taxes in 1999 to 7 percent today."
Actually, Michiganders pay much more in taxes. These are simply figures from the state's Headlee amendment revenue limit calculations, which do not count local or federal figures, nor all of the state's non-federal revenues. Adding local tax burdens increases the figure to 10.7 percent. Overall, Michigan citizens face a much broader burden of government. The federal government takes in 21.6 percent of the entire country's personal income and Michigan pays its share, leaving Michigan citizens tax burdens around 30 percent instead of 7.
Besides, the state tax system is very good at capturing revenues from growing economies. That's largely the reason why state government coffers were closer to the Headlee cap in the high-growth 90s. But Michigan has not grown in a long time. … more

Michigan Government Revenue Forecasted to Increase, But …

Yesterday, forecasters from the Michigan House Fiscal Agency, Senate Fiscal Agency and Treasury Department met to agree on an estimate for the next fiscal year's state revenues. These revenues are important because coupled with spending figures, they tell us whether fiscal 2011 will result in a surplus or deficit.
Despite Michigan's poor economy, state government revenue is expected to increase from this year to next. Nevertheless, the state is expected to spend $1.6 billion more than it receives in revenues… more

Michigan's Tax System Is Much Better Than Michigan’s Economy

Even with an expected budget overspending crisis of $1.8 billion next year, Michigan government's revenue situation is doing much better than the rest of the economy.
State tax receipts are largely determined by how well a state's economy is doing. When workers earn more, they pay more income taxes. When consumers buy more, they pay more in sales taxes.
Because of those ties to the economy, every state's tax base is naturally exposed to cyclical factors. But each state responds differently. Over the past year, Michigan's has been far less responsive to the recession than most states. … more

Busting Your Michigan Industry Myths

The idea that agriculture is Michigan's second-largest industry is a piece of conventional wisdom often iterated, in fact, so much that a Google search for "second largest industry" returns Michigan's iterations of the idea. Yet this is false. Agriculture is nowhere near as large as most Michigan industries. … more

Michigan Still Has Highest Unemployment, But …

New state-by-state unemployment figures were released today which showed that Michigan remains the state with the highest unemployment rate for the 45th consecutive month. But overall, its rate decreased along with 35 other states. … more

Why State Economic Development Programs Fail to Fix Michigan

The Michigan Economic Growth Authority is the state's premiere economic incentive program and accounts for much of the state's "job creation" announcements.
But most of the job gains and losses in the state are unheralded. Consider this chart of quarterly job gains, losses and MEGA announcements. … more

What It Doesn’t Take To Grow Michigan

In a recent Grand Rapids Press column, Lou Glazer argued that there's a correlation between a state getting more college graduates and enjoying higher statewide income levels.
However, Glazer uses only snapshot views of what the per capita personal income or economic output is in a state right now. He ignores trends. But you can't just wear a white suit to become Mark Twain, you have to grow to the role. … more

Higher Education “Underinvestment” Provides a Return

It's often repeated in the halls of government and the state-focused media that Michigan "underinvests" in higher education. The facts suggest otherwise.
In 2003, Michigan had the seventh highest spending among the states on public universities. Appropriations here have been fairly level since then, but we were still the 10th-biggest higher ed spender in 2008. Even with sideways revenues for half the decade, Michigan has been surpassed only by Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia in total dollars devoted to higher education. … more

Smith Tax Hike Solves Non-Existent Problem

Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, D-Salem, proposed imposing a graduated income tax on Michigan individuals, and also extending the sales tax to services. She expects these hikes to extract an additional $6.5 billion from families and businesses here.
Rep. Smith and others seeking tax hikes (on both sides of the aisle) often claim that because of changes in the state's economy Michigan's tax system extracts fewer dollars per unit of economic activity than it did in an earlier era.
They are mistaken. Indeed, in its ability to suck revenue from a given level of (declining) economic activity, Michigan's tax system has outperformed 31 other states over the past year, despite being affixed to the nation's worst economy. This fact contradicts the claims of would-be tax raisers that our system is "broken" and needs to be "modernized." … more

Michigan Has Best Job Growth Since 90s, But…

Michigan had the best job creation it has had since the boom 1990s last month. The state added 38,600 jobs in a single month, a gain of 1.0 percent. The last time the state added more than 1 percent in a single month was in August 1998 when GM workers returned to work after a month-long strike.
Here's a look at recent monthly job gains and losses: … more

How Bad Is the Housing Market in Michigan?

The state archeologist office, which traces the remains of human civilization and industry, is now found in the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
Seriously… more

Auto Industry a “Bit Player” in State Fiscal Woes

Michigan politicians are fond of blaming the domestic auto industry's decline for all the state's problems. But "auto industry" just doesn't mean what it used to here. For example, domestic auto sales have fallen by 49.8 percent since their 1999 peak. Over the same period, however, inflation-adjusted state tax and fee revenues have only declined by 15.9 percent. … more

Michigan’s Juiced Revenue System

Advocates of higher taxes frequently claim that Michigan's tax system is "out of sync" with the current economy, and needs to be "restructured" in ways that ensure more steady (and larger) extraction of revenues. But when it comes to extracting revenue from a declining tax base, Michigan has been taking a larger proportion of the population's wealth and income, not less. It's also been "outcompeting" other states in this regard. … more

Pew Center Is Wrong on Michigan, Right About Trend

A new report from the Pew Center on the States, Beyond California (pdf), erroneously suggests that Michigan's economic travails are due to the fall of the auto industry and the presence of what it characterizes as an "out of sync" tax system. … more

Michigan: “A+” for Corporate Welfare, “F” for Economic Growth

The appproach Michigan politicians have mainly chosen to show that they're "doing something" about the state's ongoing economic decline is a massive expansion of discriminatory tax breaks and subsidies for particular firms. The failure of such programs has created another political need, which is a way to demonstrate that this approach really isn't a waste of time and money. Enter the annual Governor's Cup ranking by Site Selection magazine, which is considered the "company paper" for government "economic development" bureaucracies around the country. … more

Social Welfare Payments Do Not Make a Strong Economy

In the latest Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency Economic Indicators report, economist David Zin echoed an observation I made here last month on personal income: The recent increase in a key economic indicator — personal income growth — suggests the very opposite that Michigan has turned a corner. … more

Successful Film Incentive Would Drain Entire Treasury

In response to a question from Jon Boguth in Time on what makes Michigan's existing businesses less worthy of tax relief than film producers, Gov. Jennifer Granholm responded, "You can't give tax credits to everybody, because somebody's gotta pay for them." It's a clear admission that the program is not costless. And because the film incentive is so generous, the costs of "success" would be massive. … more

Michigan Government Grows Despite State Budget Woes

At the state level, government revenues and spending may be falling, but new Census Bureau evidence - considered the "gold standard" in such things, suggests that the overall revenues and spending of all units of government in Michigan have never been higher. … more

Want to Grow the Film Industry? Grow the Economy

Since April 2008, Michigan has given qualified film productions up to 42 cents on the dollar for every expense they incur in the state. While the state is able to point to a number of films and projects given assistance from this program, the state's motion production and sound recording industries employ fewer people now than when the subsidy began.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan's movie and sound industries employ 5,222 workers as of March 2009, the most recent month available from the quarterly census of employment and wages. This industry declined by 31.2 percent from a peak in 2002 of 7,586. And even at its peak, this industry accounted for only .2 percent of the state's total employment. … more

Coincident Indicator?

This chart might be called the "Political Class Desperation Index." The need for transformational reform of Michigan's tax, spending, labor and regulatory environments is indicated by the skyrocketing unemployment rate. The failure of the political class to buck special interests — including government employee unions — and finally undertake those reforms makes its members increasingly desperate to create the appearance of "doing something." Thus the massive increase in futile picking of winners (and losers) for receipt of discriminatory tax breaks and subsidies. These create diversionary "feel good" stories for local newpapers, but do nothing to reverse the state's economic decline — and may even accelerate it. ("MEGA" is the flagship program of Michigan's bureaucratic "economic development" empire.) … more

Latest MEGA Expansion Won’t Improve Michigan

The Michigan Economic Growth Authority, the state's lead business incentive program, is primed for new amendments to raise the cap on the number of credits it can award this year. While there are some good transparency efforts in the bill, the state would be better served by eliminating the program and lowering taxes for every business. … more

Michigan Tops Unemployment For 43rd Month in a Row

The Bureau of Labor Statistics today released the September state-by-state unemployment rates. Michigan remains the highest in the country at 15.3 percent unemployment. This is the 43rd month in a row that Michigan has been the worst state for finding a job.  … more

Eureka! Michigan Budget Problems Solved!

The Michigan "Legislative Commission on Government Efficiency" has come out with a set of "overarching conclusions" that includes this gem:

Cross-cutting and underlying principles are the foundation of our recommendations
— Look to optimize across all levels and units of government
— Address underlying structural issues
— Be holistic in the approach (look at all aspects of the budget and government operations)
— Create a roadmap to fiscal stability
— Be of sufficient magnitude to make a difference
All clear now? Good — let's get on with it.
Seriously, these are the kind of vague generalities and bureaucratic gobbledygook where you can almost rearrange words in any particular order and they're no less meaningless.
In contrast, here's an example of what serious, concrete, specific recommendations for transformational reform really look like.  … more

Michigan Is #7 in Income Growth, But...

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released 2nd quarter personal income growth data. The figures include revenue from all wages, dividends, benefits and transfer payments, and shows which states are growing the most.Michigan grew a remarkable 7th among the states - positive news considering the state's long economic decline. At .7 percent, it wasn't much growth, but the US average was .2 percent. … more

Governor Inflates Stimulus Jobs by 84 Percent

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Gov. Jennifer Granholm stated that the stimulus had created or retained 36,000 jobs in Michigan. However, it appears her administration's own count of the figures says that figure is inflated. A running tally on www.michigan.gov/recovery shows that the figure is 19,498. … more

Business Owner Says Value of State Incentives Is Wrong: State Appears Right

One recipient of government business incentives is angry at the state for publishing an "absurd" value of those incentives, according to the Michigan Information & Research Service. The incident illustrates the need for transparency over the state's economic development efforts. … more

MEGA Database Updated

The state's economic development department has stopped releasing important information about the state's flagship incentive program, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority. To help make the program more transparent, the Mackinac Center requested documents about each credit awarded through this program and made them available online. You can view the updated database here… more

Gov. Granholm Takes Washington Post for Ride on “Jobs” Numbers

In a profile that appeared in today's Washington Post, Gov. Jennifer Granholm misused data on her targeted business tax break and subsidy programs, the administration's primary response to a Michigan economy that has lost 632,600 payroll jobs since her inauguration back in 2003. The Post writes, "Since taking office in 2003, Granholm has created 163,300 positions, her office says," a reference to jobs directly attributable to business "incentive" programs. In fact, the most recent data indicates that MEGA, the state's flaghip corporate welfare program, can claim credit for just 7,755 new jobs during Gov. Granholm's six year, nine month tenure in office! … more

Governor’s Michigan-Mississippi Comparison is Problematic

In a press conference today, Mich. Governor Jennifer Granholm argued that tax hikes are necessary. "What we're fighting for is Michigan not becoming Mississippi," she said. However, the rhetorical flourish is undermined by the reality that Mississippi is no longer the "small government = high-poverty" foil that Michigan's political class has often used to justify keeping their government employee constituencies well fed with more tax dollars.  … more

Michigan Tax Burden Increases, Census Bureau Shows

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that state and local government tax burden increased from 2006 to 2007. Michigan workers pay on average $8,691 in property, sales, income and other taxes. This is a one-year increase of 5.9 percent. … more

Lansing Talks Tax Hikes as Michigan Poverty Increases

Poverty rate data released today shows that Michigan fell further in its economic status. The percentage of Michigan residents living in poverty increased from 14 percent to 14.4 percent in 2008, according to the Census Bureau release… more

Ecorse Officials' Arraignment Highlights Need for Transparency

Following up on yesterday's report of possible corruption in Detroit Public Schools, The Detroit News reports on the arraignment of Ecorse's mayor and controller, who have been charged with conspiracy, bribery and fraud with regards to the city's public works contractor. The pair allegedly received at least $10,000 and a Lexus from the contractor, according to The News. … more

DPS Building Scandal Highlights Need For Transparency

The Detroit News today writes about a possible scandal regarding building construction and land purchases by Detroit Public Schools. The district paid more than $156.2 million for services it may have obtained for $15 million, according to The News. It underscores the importance of transparency. … more

Michigan Median Household Income Falls

Michigan median household incomes grew by 1.7 percent, according to a release today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Adjusted for inflation, Michigan incomes fell by 2.4 percent. Overall, the national median household income decreased by 1.3 percent. Unlike much economic news in the past decade, a number of other states are sharing in the downturn. … more

Unemployment Rate Increases

State-by-state figures are not released until Friday, but today the state released August employment and unemployment figures. After decreasing in July, Michigan's unemployment rated inched back to 15.2 percent. … more

Governor's Proposal: Equivalent of 58 Percent Surcharge

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has gone public a laundry list of proposed tax hikes and “loophole closings.” It's a "death by a thousand cuts" strategy, which most items extracting relatively small amounts, or targeted at politically powerless populations like smokers. Unfortunately, these little injuries add up to a lot of blood drained from Michigan's already ailing economy. To put this in perspective, to raise the same amount of revenue raising business tax rates, the current (and reviled) 22 percent surcharge on the Michigan Business Tax would have to be raised from 22 percent to 51 percent. Alternatives, the governor and legislature could jack-up the stat income tax by another 11 percent, increasing the rates from 4.35 percent to 4.85 percent. (estimates on revenue from each tax are available here.) … more

Budget deal includes more Mackinac Center ideas

The state has until the end of the month to pass a budget and a key figure, Mich. Speaker of the House Andy Dillon just stated that an agreement is "very close". While a number of the Mackinac Center's reform ideas are being discussed for this budget, the speaker is looking at more. … more