The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

April 17, 2015, MichiganVotes Weekly Roll Call

Auto insurance, double-dipping pensions, investor guarantees

Now with one click you can approve or disapprove of key votes by your legislators using the VoteSpotter smart phone app. Visit and download VoteSpotter today!

Senate Bill 248, Revise mandated no-fault auto insurance personal injury coverage

To replace the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA) with a new state authority that would provide reinsurance to insurance companies for the unlimited personal injury coverage mandated by Michigan’s no-fault law. The bill would place some price controls on services provided to injured individuals under this coverage, and expand a state automobile theft prevention authority to include insurance fraud.

Senate Bill 191, Expand government power to extract more costs from violators: Passed 36 to 1 in the Senate

To add retail fraud and failing to appear in court to the crimes for which a court may order a violator to reimburse the government for expenses related to the incident (such as police wages). Also, to add “transportation costs” to the list of reimbursable costs.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 170, Authorize high school “STEM” diploma: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To authorize granting a high school diploma “endorsement” to a student who completes a specified number of science, technology, engineering and math courses (STEM).

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4195, Cap government “venture capital investment” program: Passed 107 to 3 in the House on

To prohibit the state from pledging any more future tax revenue to guarantee investor returns under an “early stage venture capital investment” scheme authorized by a 2003 law.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4273, Eliminate February election date: Passed 93 to 17 in the House

To eliminate the February election date authorized by a 2003 election consolidation law which required all regular elections in the state to be held on either the last Tuesday in February, or the Tuesday after the first Monday in either May, August, or November.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 12, Allow pension double-dipping by “retired” Attorney General employees: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To allow a retired state employee to simultaneously collect pension benefits and a paycheck for work performed as an Attorney General consultant or expert witness.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

SOURCE:, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit

Open Letter to Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio

National Public Radio wrong about Mackinac Center study

Editor’s Note: The author made several attempts to contact Steve Inskeep and to request a follow-up story that might provide a fairer treatment of the Mackinac Center’s right-to-work study. We received no response.

April 6, 2015

Mr. Steve Inskeep

In a March 27 on-air exchange with David Wessel of the Brookings Institution on the impact of right-to-work laws, you focused on a “single phrase that was mentioned in a news story earlier this week” (transcript here). This phrase was sourced in the NPR story to a 2013 study coauthored by Dr. Michael Hicks and myself.

Unfortunately, your conversation proceeded to completely mischaracterize this study.

The “single phrase” was this: “Actually, since World War II, income and job growth have increased faster in right-to-work states.”

Wessel initially confirmed this observation with his own look at the data over the last two years. But he then falsely insinuated that our study simplistically asserted causal relationships between RTW and economic outcomes with no effort to control for other factors that may drive economic growth.

David Wessel: “But those correlations do not prove that right-to-work laws are the reason or even a reason that some states added more jobs than others.”

No kidding!

Wessel inferred that several bulleted observations in our opening discussion (see page four) amounted to us claiming conclusive evidence of causation. But even a casual look at our study would reveal these observations as part of the narrative introducing the RTW impact questions the study’s statistical model sought to test.

To be explicit, we sought to test these questions while controlling for “the other things going on,” in Wessel’s words.

Yet the idea that other factors may explain all or part of these economic phenomena was presented by Wessel as if this is a new concept and criticism. Perhaps he skimmed past the section of our study called “The Research Challenges of Right-to-Work,” where among other things we wrote:

A study which examines the role of right-to-work absent such issues as tax policy, weather and other variables that may impact a state’s aggregate economic performance will be unable to tease out the influence of right-to-work laws specifically.

Nevertheless, neither Mr. Wessel nor yourself bothered to mention any of this, much less the carefully constructed model we designed specifically to control for those other variables.

Adding insult to injury you asked Mr. Wessel if there is any “impartial scholarship” on right-to-work laws, as if Dr. Hicks and I had failed to produce as much. This offense was compounded by his throwing the misleading “conservative” label at us.

In answering that question Wessel pointed to two other studies — but neglected to mention both were highlighted in our study’s literature review.

In addition, our empirical research was peer reviewed twice. The second review was done by economists for an academic journal in which our model and its findings are soon to be published.

One would hope that an NPR interview of a Brookings scholar about (alleged) omitted variables would not actually omit important variables itself.

I am disappointed in your coverage and treatment of our right-to-work study. It deserved better and so did your listeners.


Michael LaFaive
Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative

The Detroit News reports on the lack of transparency from Michigan’s corporate welfare program.

“Michigan taxpayers are on the hook for giving 96 percent of nearly $9.4 billion in tax credits to companies in the vaguely named ‘transportation’ sector, but a state agency that doles out the job-retaining incentives refuses to disclose the revised amounts owed to individual companies,” the article notes.

Reporter Chad Livengood notes that deals in the past were more open to the public than today and quotes the Mackinac Center's James Hohman:

"It's a huge expenditure of taxpayer dollars of which no one is allowed any details," said James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a [free market] think tank in Midland. "A company's estimated tax credit amount has always been disclosable."

The Mackinac Center has documented the lack of openness from the MEDC about how they spend taxpayer money with nearly 200 articles, including in a 2009 policy brief “MEGA, the MEDC and the Loss of Sunshine.”

According to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, the rates of accidents, injuries, and fatalities on Michigan's roads have been decreasing for decades. Improved pavement conditions will make the roads safer, but drivers should feel at ease that transportation is less risky than it used to be.

The highway safety office reports that vehicle accidents are at all-time lows. There were 289,061 crashes in Michigan in 2013, when drivers traveled 95 billion miles on Michigan roads. Thus, there were three crashes per million miles traveled. Ten years ago, it was 3.9 crashes per million. Ten years before that it was 4.2 crashes per million. Ten years before that it was 4.7 crashes per million. Before that, it was even worse. (See the chart below.)

Fewer accidents mean fewer injuries on the roads. There are 0.7 injuries per million vehicle miles in 2013, a 53-percent reduction from 1993.

Deaths from road accidents have steadily decreased as well, with one fatality for every 100 million miles traveled. The state has not yet release the number of vehicle miles traveled in 2014, but the number of deaths in road accidents in 2014 was the lowest in a generation.

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When considering only at passenger cars and trucks, the situation is even better. The figures above include motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians. For just cars and trucks, deaths per 100 million vehicle miles is less than half of what it was in 1995.

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Aside from the quality of pavement, other factors contribute to road accidents: According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency, 27 percent of road fatalities in Michigan involved a drunk driver and 7 percent involved motorcyclists riding without a helmet.

The May 5 vote on Proposal 1 has many talking about road safety. Road conditions are a relevant factor, and the state certainly should not wait for safety rates to worsen before addressing necessary road repairs.  

In addition to raising taxes to spend more on the roads, the proposal makes a number of other changes to the Michigan Constitution and state statutes.

Improved road quality may lower these numbers even further and deteriorating roads would be detrimental to safety. Voters may want to shore up further gains through road improvements, but should feel comfortable that traffic safety trends continue to improve.

LaTanya Dorsey is a mother who sends her daughter to a public charter school in Eastpointe. Her daughter is on the honor roll and doing very well.

Dorsey didn't expect to have a say in where her daughter went to school.

“Usually, it's the district that you're in is the school that you would have to attend,” Dorsey said. “That kind of surprised me — that I did have a choice to send her to another school, so I was real grateful for that.”

Dorsey said that parental choice is critical to helping students attend a school that is the best fit for their needs. It doesn't make much sense, she said, to only use a child's home address to determine where he or she goes to school.

“We know what's best for our kids,” Dorsey said. “I know what's best for my daughter, and the school she attends is a great school.”

To meet more Detroit-area parents who value school choice, visit

Policy Analyst Jarrett Skorup and Assistant Director of Fiscal Policy James Hohman explain in an column why the state should get out of the business of subsidizing film production companies.

Skorup and Hohman note:

Despite handing out nearly $500 million over the years, the program has failed to create a sustainable film industry in Michigan. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are fewer film jobs in Michigan today (1,561) then when the program began in 2008 (1,663). In 2013, there were zero full-time jobs created by these subsidies, according to the latest report from the Michigan Film Office.

Over the years, the program has taken $131 from each household in Michigan and given it mostly to Hollywood film producers and studios. And while film producers certainly spend some of that money here in Michigan, taxpayers never come out ahead. The Senate Fiscal Agency found in 2010 that the program returned only 11 cents on the dollar. That's a poor investment.

Independent research on these types of programs is almost unanimous: Film subsidies just don't work. The fiscally conservative Tax Foundation says they "are costly and fail to live up to their promises." The left-of-center Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says movie production incentives are "a classic race to the bottom" with the economic benefits "more fiction than fact." The studies favoring these programs are usually sponsored by the film industry.

Mackinac Center experts have written repeatedly about how Michigan's Film Incentive Program fails to provide any benefits to taxpayers.

An Associated Press story about Proposal 1, the May 5 sales and gas tax ballot question,  prominently features Mackinac Center research. From the article:

The state sales tax would go up a penny on the dollar. The gasoline tax would rise with inflation, likely more. The annual vehicle registration tax would be higher.

If voters approve a measure on Michigan's May 5 ballot to improve roads and bridges, the $2.1 billion tax hike would average $545 per household in 2016 — or $45 a month — according to calculations by The Associated Press. The per-household tax increase would fall to $474, or $40 per month, in 2017 when low- to moderate-income residents become eligible for a larger tax credit under Proposal 1.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Midland, says it is tough to estimate Proposal 1's impact on a typical resident because the measure has so many components. The group's estimated increased tax burden is $477 to $525 per household, with Earned Income Tax Credit recipients receiving an average $69 tax cut.

The story was featured in the following news sources: Detroit News, Lansing State Journal, WXYZ, Oakland Press, Crain’s Detroit Business, Grand Haven Tribune, Monroe News, Midland Daily News, and elsewhere around the country.

Other stories about our work and the study have recently appeared on MLive, MI NBC News, WILX, WHTC, and the Port Huron Times Herald.

To see more information about Proposal 1, go here.

April 10, 2015, MichiganVotes Weekly Roll Call

Hospital “prices,” cigarette taxes, unions, monopolies and more

Now with one click you can approve or disapprove of key votes by your legislators using the VoteSpotter smart phone app. Visit and download VoteSpotter today!

The House and Senate are on a two-week spring break. Therefore, this report contains several recently introduced bills of interest.

Senate Bill 147: Require hospitals to post their “prices”

Introduced by Sen. Joe Hune (R), to require hospitals to place on their website or make available in other ways a copy of their “charge description master,” defined as “a uniform schedule of charges represented by the hospital as its gross billed charge for a given service or item, regardless of payer type.” Note: Most hospital prices are negotiated with insurers and government agencies, and are not based on market competition. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Senate Bill 148: Cut cigarette tax

Introduced by Sen. Joe Hune (R), to cut the state cigarette tax in half, from $2 per pack to $1. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Senate Bill 151: Repeal deadline on prisoner DNA evidence appeals

Introduced by Sen. Steve Bieda (D), to repeal a Jan. 1, 2016 deadline for a prisoner to appeal his or her conviction on the basis of evidence generated by new DNA testing technology. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Senate Bill 156: Repeal FDA approved drug lawsuit ban

Introduced by Sen. Steve Bieda (D), to allow product liability lawsuits against drug companies for drugs that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Under a 1995 Michigan tort reform law such lawsuits are prohibited unless a company intentionally used fraud or bribery to gain approval for a drug. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Senate Bill 170: Authorize high school “STEM” diploma

Introduced by Sen. John Proos (R), to authorize granting a high school diploma “endorsement” to a student who completes a specified number of science, technology, engineering and math courses (STEM). Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Senate Bill 172: Require government “morning after” pill information campaign

Introduced by Sen. Bert Johnson (D), to require the state health department to disseminate specified information about “emergency contraceptives” (the “morning after” pill). Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Senate Bill 181 and House Bill 4283: Extend open records law to legislators

Introduced by Sen. Steve Bieda (D) and Rep. Brandon Dillon (D), respectively, to repeal the exemptions from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act for records in the possession of legislators and their staff. The bills do not exempt communications to legislators from constituents. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

House Bill 4261: Ban “open carry” in concealed pistol “gun free zones”

Introduced by Rep. Andy Schor (D), to ban “open carry” of firearms in “gun free zones” specified in the state concealed pistol license law, which include schools, day care centers, stadiums, arenas, theaters, bars, churches, college dorms and classrooms, hospitals, casinos and courts. Also, to add public libraries to this list. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

House Bill 4291: Impose recycling mandate on cell phone and tablet makers

Introduced by Rep. Leslie Love (D), to expand a 2008 law that imposed a new regulatory regime mandating that manufacturers of computers and related equipment take back used units and recycle the parts, so that it also applies to cell phones and tablet computers. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

House Bill 4298: Give big electric utilities a monopoly on generation

Introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R), to repeal a law that authorizes competition for 10 percent of electric utilities’ customer base. This would essentially restore the complete monopolies enjoyed by large utilities before a broad customer choice and competition regime was authorized by a 2000 law, which in 2008 was restricted to the current limit of 10 percent of their markets. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

House Bill 4311: Repeal government unions’ duty to represent non-members

Introduced by Rep. Gary Glenn (R), to establish that government employee unions have no duty to represent workers who have elected not to pay union dues or fees, as permitted under the state’s right to work law. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

House Bill 4333: Prohibit corporate subsidy deal modifications

Introduced by Rep. Lee Chatfield (R), to prohibit state officials from modifying corporate tax break and subsidy deals granted to particular businesses under a Michigan Economic Growth Authority law, which was repealed in 2011. The bill follows revelations that officials continue to amend and modify these deals in ways that may increase the size of a recently disclosed $10 billion liability they have generated. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

SOURCE:, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit

Policy analyst Jarrett Skorup recently spoke on the issue of civil asset forfeiture to the Birmingham Republican Women’s Club. The event also featured Rep. Mike McCready, R-Bloomfield Hills, Regina Brim who is a local activist opposed to forfeiture, and Megan Noland, who represented the Oakland County sheriff’s office.

Civil asset forfeiture is the process of law enforcement agencies seizing the property of citizens who have not been charged with a crime.

Mackinac Center analysts have called for reforming Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture laws for many years. Michigan Capitol Confidential, our daily news web site, and has recently featured stories that highlight some of the problems with this practice.

Amendment’s Effects on Higher Ed are Uncertain

Proposal 1 may offer more leeway in funding universities than intended

Most of the focus on Proposal 1 has been directed to its changes in the state’s fiscal policies, rather than a close look at its proposed constitutional changes. One issue demands further attention since its effects are unclear.

The constitutional amendments allow for a higher sales tax, earmark more money to the School Aid Fund and exempt road vehicle fuel from sales taxes. But they also remove “higher education” from the list of acceptable uses of the SAF while adding community colleges and some programs to the acceptable uses of the that fund. Here is this section of the proposed amendment:

There shall be established a state school aid fund which shall be used exclusively for aid to school districts, higher education, PUBLIC COMMUNITY COLLEGES, PUBLIC CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS, SCHOLARSHIPS FOR STUDENTS ATTENDING EITHER PUBLIC COMMUNITY COLLEGES OR PUBLIC CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS, and school employees’ retirement systems, as provided by law.

As I mentioned in my brief, this has some fiscal consequences. The state has been spending $200 million in school aid fund money in the state higher education budget and this would likely have to stop if the amendment is approved. There are small amounts of general fund money in the state’s school aid budget that may mitigate this new prohibition.

Future policymakers could still devote money from the SAF to the state’s public universities through possible loopholes in the language.

A number of state universities still participate in the school employees’ retirement system, which remains an acceptable place to devote SAF dollars. The state could contribute to these universities by directly paying for the retirement contributions of those participating institutions.

Policymakers could even expand on this practice by allowing university employees to participate in the school employees’ retirement system. Or it could create a new “school employees’ retirement system” with state university participation and provide SAF money for participating employers.

This amendment also changes this section of the constitution from naming the kinds of institutions that can receive SAF money to naming uses for the money. The state’s public universities could receive SAF money for scholarships for students in career and technical education programs, or they could set up career and technical education programs themselves.

Public universities may even make the case that they are fundamentally in the business of providing career and technical education. After all, while most universities remain liberal arts institutions, career preparation remains their primary selling point to both prospective students and to the Legislature when asking for state money.

Judicial interpretation of our state constitution is subject to different standards than those used for regular statutes. The justices would rely more on a normal citizen’s interpretation of the language rather than the often arcane interplay of existing statutes. On that standard, there seems to be more leeway for funding the state’s public universities than policymakers may have intended.