The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

November 21, 2014, MichiganVotes Weekly Vote Report

Constitutional amendment proposals

While the legislature is in a two week recess with no voting, the Roll Call Report examines recent constitutional amendment proposals of interest.

Note: There will be no Roll Call Report during Thanksgiving week. The Report will return on Dec. 5.

House Joint Resolution KK: Replace House and Senate with unicameral legislature

Introduced by Rep. Martin Howrylak (R), to place before voters in the next general election a Constitutional amendment to establish a nonpartisan unicameral legislature (instead of a separate House and Senate) with 110 districts apportioned on the basis of formulas specified in the resolution. Legislators would have four year terms and term limits would be repealed. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

HJRs B and MM, SJR Z: Repeal constitutional prohibition on graduated state income tax

Introduced by Rep. Jeff Irwin (D), Rep. Jim Townsend (D) and Sen. Rebekah Warren (D), respectively, to place before voters in the next general election a constitutional amendment to repeal an existing prohibition on a graduated income tax (as opposed to Michigan's current flat tax). The measures do not specify a rate structure, which would be left to future legislatures. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

House Joint Resolution BB: Call for restrictions on corporation and nonprofit political spending

Introduced by Rep. Jeff Irwin (D), to submit an application to Congress calling for a “convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” limited to proposing an amendment to “address concerns such as those raised by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission,” which affirmed that unions and “corporations” (including non-profit groups motivated by ideological or political concerns) possess the same right already recognized for individuals to spend however much they want on independent political expenditures. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

House Joint Resolution NN: Call for congressional term limits convention

Introduced by Rep. Tom McMillin (R), to submit an application to Congress calling for a “convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” limited to proposing an amendment that prohibits members of congress from being in office for more than 12 years (combined House and Senate terms). Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

House Joint Resolution OO: Require congress approve large-impact rules

Introduced by Rep. Tom McMillin (R), to submit an application to Congress calling for a “convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” limited to proposing an amendment establishing three year sunsets on all federal departments without congressional re-authorization, and requiring congressional approval of all major administrative regulations that impose an economic burden exceeding $100 million. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

House Joint Resolution PP: Call for limits on federal interstate commerce regulation

Introduced by Rep. Tom McMillin (R), to submit an application to Congress calling for a “convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” limited to proposing an amendment clarifying that Congress's power to regulate commerce does not extend to activity within a state, whether or not it affects interstate commerce, or extend to compelling an individual or entity to participate in commerce or trade. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Senate Joint Resolution DD: Revise allowable School Aid Fund uses

Introduced by Sen. Bruce Caswell (R), to place before voters in the next general election a constitutional amendment to replace state constitutional language allowing tax revenue earmarked to the state “School Aid Fund” to be used for “higher education,” with new language limiting this to community colleges. In other words, tax dollars earmarked to this fund could only be spent on K-12 public schools and on community colleges. See also SJRs H, U and AA, and HJR Z, which would restrict School Aid Fund use to K-12 schools only. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Senate Joint Resolution EE: Make state constitution “gender neutral”

Introduced by Sen. Steve Bieda (D), to place before voters in the next general election a constitutional amendment to edit the document to make it “gender neutral.” For example, the current constitution adopted in 1963 establishes that “Every person has a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of himself and the state.” Under the proposal, that would become “for the defense of himself or herself.” Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

 

SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, 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 http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

Issues & Ideas Forum Dec. 4 in Lansing

Our growing occupational licensing regime

On Dec. 4, the Mackinac Center will host Dr. Morris Kleiner of the University of Minnesota to speak about occupational licensing. On this issue, Dr. Kleiner is one of the leading experts in the nation. (For information about the event, go here. Free lunch!)

In a just-published piece in the Cato Online Forum, Dr. Kleiner makes the case for why occupational licensing laws are harmful. Specifically, licensure laws raise costs, limit consumer choices and impede social mobility. These harms fall disproportionately on people with below-average incomes, because licensing laws limit the opportunities for people to earn income.

But that’s not all. Occupational licensing also creates a “reverse Robin Hood effect.” When these laws are introduced, newly licensed providers disproportionately flock to serve the high-quality end of the market. This creates competition and reduces prices in that segment of the market, but this comes at the direct expense of consumers on the other end of the market — those consuming lower quality services. In other words, those who can afford the higher quality services reap the benefits, while those who cannot are stuck with higher prices or nothing at all.

Considering these harms, one might wonder why licensing has grown in recent decades. In the early 1950s, only 5 percent of jobs required licensing. It’s about 30 percent now. Dr. Kleiner provides an answer:

From the time of medieval guilds, service providers have had strong incentives to create barriers to entry for their professions in order to raise wages. In contrast, consumers who will be affected by the higher costs due to licensure are unorganized and arguably underrepresented in the political process. The willingness of a legislature to pass licensure laws without rigorous analysis of its benefits relative to costs creates the opportunity for well-organized producer groups to lobby for laws that bring them personal gain.

Michigan policymakers have made some progress rolling back our anticompetitive licensure laws. But they should go further. The state should reduce the costs of obtaining a job, give residents a better chance to improve their lives and generally just get out of the way of people who want to offer all the rest of us their skills and talents.

Senate Should Take Up HB4001

Center expert's op-ed on MLive today

Executive Vice President Michael J. Reitz, who also serves on the board of directors for the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, writes in at op-ed at MLive today that the Michigan Senate should give consideration to House Bill 4001, which would strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

HB4001 has been languishing in the Senate since March. It passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support on a 102-8 vote.

Michigan House Republicans are considering a bill to continue the film subsidy program.

A panel last March at the Milken Institute in California featured several film incentive boosters who admitted Michigan’s subsidy program was a bad call.

The panel was centered on what California should do with its incentive program. There were four pro-subsidy representatives: Fred Baron of 20th Century Fox; Rajiv Dalal with the Los Angeles mayor’s office; Kathy Garmezy of the Directors Guild of America; and Kevin Klowden of the Milken Institute. Joe Henchman of the Tax Foundation was the lone opposition.

Henchman pointed out that film incentive programs are a “race to the bottom” and don’t create permanent jobs because other states will match or raise the subsidies. He noted that Michigan’s original 40 percent subsidy was “unsustainable” and that production companies sold loyalty to the state but when it was cut back, “There was a cartoon-sized hole in the wall where they ran out of the state.”

During the discussion, Michigan’s subsidy program came up several times.

Klowden said, “[U]nder the circumstances, [the subsidies] might not have been the right call for Michigan.” He noted that Michigan was offering “extremely aggressive incentives” and implied the state was “engag[ing] in that race to the bottom.”

Garmezy, who is the head of a union that lobbies for subsidies in many states, said “nothing has ever been proposed in California that is in any way is an effort to race to where Michigan is. … We’ve never raced to the bottom in this state to try to meet Michigan…”

Dalal said Michigan was a state that "did not have proper infrastructure."

Michigan passed its program in 2008 and has appropriated almost $500 million. The state has fewer jobs today than it did prior to the subsidies.

The Michigan Senate recently passed a bill that would continue the subsidies indefinitely. The bill is now being considered by the Michigan House.

~~~~~

Here is the debate:

Vernuccio Op-Ed in Detroit News

Restore democracy to the workplace

Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio recently wrote in The Detroit News that union members should enjoy the same democratic process voters enjoy on Election Day by getting to vote not just on union contracts and officials, but whether or not they want to be represented by their current union.

No, the GOP Did Not Win Because of Gerrymandering

House, Senate seats the result of where people choose to live

The Illinois 4th congressional district is one of the most gerrymandered in the country.

In his recent Dome Magazine article, Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network writes that Republicans won the state House and Senate because of “the power of the gerrymander”:

As old Joe Stalin observed, it’s less important who votes than who counts the votes. Or, in our contemporary situation, how the votes are grouped to be counted.

...Through the magic of drawing advantageous district lines, a pure toss-up state has been turned into a locked-down Red State government. I guess you have to take your hat off to the mechanics in the back room that pulled that off. But this rigged election outcome bears no resemblance to democracy. The principle of one person, one vote has been used for toilet paper.

But that does not actually appear to be the case in this most recent election. Gerrymandering certainly had some effect, but a careful look at election results shows that was not the reason the Republicans control the House and Senate.

Zach Gorchow at Gongwer lays this out:

[H]ere’s the problem with the argument that redistricting gerrymandered Democrats into an impossible task to win the majority. Most of the key House and Senate battles did not take place in these seats. In fact, many of them took place in seats whose boundaries have been largely stable or, in some cases, were made friendlier to Democrats than they were in the 2001 reapportionment plan.

Gorchow points out that Republican “gerrymandering” actually made the toss-up Senate seats more favorable to Democrats – but they still lost them. And regarding the State House, he writes:

[I]n looking at the House, of the four seats Democrats now hold that they lost on Election Day, none – I repeat, none – were designed in a way to tilt the playing field to the GOP. The 62nd District, with Battle Creek and environs, is a seat with a majority Democratic base. Republicans actually made the 71st, lost by Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge), a bit more Democratic when they redrew it, as was the case with the 91st, lost by Rep. Collene Lamonte (D-Montague). The 84th (Huron and Tuscola counties) has had the same boundaries since at least 1992.

So why did the GOP win so big at the legislative level while winning the gubernatorial race by only a few points and losing most “down ticket” statewide elections? Mostly because of where people choose to live.

Voters who tend to prefer Democrats are packed more closely together, often in urban areas. Republicans are spread out, more likely to live in suburban and rural areas. No matter how the lines are drawn in Michigan, Democrats will have the vast majority of the districts where 70 percent or more of voters choose them. There are many more districts that have a 50-60 percent Republican base than districts with strong Democratic support. Therefore, Republicans have better chances to win more districts than Democrats just based on where people choose to live.

That’s the simple math of our current electoral system.

Editor’s Note: I reached out to Rich Robinson with some of these points and this is what he said. “I believe the big sort is important, but not enough for 50 percent of votes to win 72 percent of Senate seats and 47 percent of votes to win 64 percent of U.S. House seats. The lowest winning vote percentage for a D[emocrat] for U.S. House was 60 percent. It took a lot of reaching around to achieve that.”

November 14, 2014, MichiganVotes Weekly Vote Report

Big gas tax hike, property forfeitures and more

House Bill 5477, Increase gas tax: Passed 23 to 14 in the Senate

To replace the current 19 cents per gallon gas tax and 15 cents diesel tax with a 9.5 percent wholesale fuel tax, gradually increasing to 15.5 percent in 2018. When fully phased-in this would represent a tax hike of around $1.0 billion at current wholesale fuel prices.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 841, Increase penalties, authorize property forfeiture for food stamp fraud: Passed 26 to 10 in the Senate

To revise a law that bans having or using a false or doctored food stamp debit card (“bridge card”), reducing the threshold for criminal penalties from getting $250 worth of merchandise to $100, and increasing the penalties. The bill also authorizes the seizure and forfeiture of the proceeds from this crime, and any property, including real estate, used to “facilitate” it.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 1100, Impose cash register fraud detector device mandate on merchants: Passed 31 to 5 in the Senate

To give the state Department of Treasury the authority to mandate that, for purposes of collecting sales tax, up to 1,000 merchants statewide must install software or detectors to expose the use an “automated sales suppression device” for falsifying the records of electronic cash registers (also called “zappers” or “phantom-ware”).

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 843, Authorize welfare agency police force: Passed 25 to 11 in the Senate

To give the Department of Human Services, the state welfare agency, the authority to appoint agents with the same powers as peace (police) officers and limited arrest powers.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4482, Convert “economic development” programs from rule-based to discretionary subsidies: Passed 77 to 30 in the House

To consolidate within the Michigan Strategic Fund agency the decision-making powers currently vested in various other government “economic development” and job training programs created over the years. In general, this and related bills have the effect of converting programs that give selective corporate and developer tax breaks and subsidies from (putatively) rule-based programs to ones in which the benefits are granted at the discretion of political appointees on the Michigan Strategic Fund board. The bill also expand this agency’s authority over “brownfield” and “historic district” tax breaks and subsidies, and government job training subsidies for particular companies.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 5513, Expand mobile home court regulation: Passed 106 to 0 in the House

To expand the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Quality over mobile home parks; impose new licensure conditions; require the state “Manufactured Housing Commission“ to notify local governments of any complaints from residents; impose a performance bond mandate on mobile home park owners; impose an annual inspection mandate; authorize placing a park under court-ordered receivership if conditions threaten residents’ health and safety; and more.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4157, Lend IT project money to local governments: Passed 90 to 17 in the House

To create a government fund to make loans to state agencies, local governments, colleges and universities, school districts, and nonprofits that provide public services, for information technology projects that meet various criteria specified in the bill, and which would be selected by a board of state officials and political appointees.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4401, Exempt some excavation and mining from permit mandate: Passed 68 to 39 in the House on

To exempt from state dredging and related permit requirements excavation or mining activities associated with an active mining operation, unless they create an inland lake with a surface area of five acres or greater.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 5230, Expand government’s power to seize and sell property deemed a “nuisance”: Passed 77 to 33 in the House

To expand the power of government to seize and sell an owner’s property, so that it applies to the contents of a building deemed a “nuisance” because they are connected with unlawful gun violence or human trafficking. Under this power the property owner does not need to be charged or convicted of a crime, and most of the proceeds from the taking go to the law enforcement agencies involved.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, 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 http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

Michigan Bill Could Give Ride-Sharing an Uber Lift

Bill prohibits local governments from further regulation

State Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw, introduced legislation that would create state-based regulations for ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. At first glance, the regulations appear reasonable and have the support of these so-called transportation network companies themselves, as reported by MIRS News (subscription required).

Uber and Lyft have faced challenges trying to break into new markets around the country, as each city has its own unique regulations for taxi services. City governments don’t quite know how to regulate these new ride-sharing services though, because they don’t fit neatly into pre-existing taxi laws. Naturally, taxi companies are lobbying local governments to ban or severely limit these services, as they (justifiably) view them as an existential threat to their business.

Statewide regulations of these services make some sense. After all, do residents of Lansing face significantly different risks from ride-sharing than residents in Grand Rapids? Or, put another way, if some ride-sharing regulations are good for Detroit, they should be just as good for Traverse City or Jackson. Further, reasonable statewide regulations are an improvement over the current hodgepodge of rules created by local city ordinances.

The proposed regulations require transportation network companies to hold a certain amount of insurance, get annual vehicle inspections and only use licensed drivers with good driving records, among other things. Uber and Lyft do almost all this on their own already.

In light of these regulations, it’s important to note that ride-sharing services provide a remarkable level of self-regulation — much more than most other services that the state does not regulate at all. For instance, Uber drivers are rated directly by their riders, and these ratings are available for all other riders to see. The best type of regulation comes not from bureaucrats in Lansing, but from the information generated by the users of these services themselves. Previously, this type of information was too costly to share easily with all potential users, but today, it’s readily available in your pocket.

The most important aspect to Rep. Kelly’s bill is that it prohibits local governments from further regulating transportation network companies. This will provide regulatory stability for Uber and Lyft in Michigan, and will make it likely that they could expand rapidly in this state. This should be welcomed, as these services provide new job opportunities to thousands of people and reduce the transportation costs of thousands more.

Winning by Default

Breaking down the GOP's 2014 election success

(Editor’s note: Jack Spencer is capitol affairs specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential and a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not necessarily represent the views of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy or Michigan Capitol Confidential.)

The real story of the 2014 elections is that broad and shallow segments of the Democratic base saw nothing compelling to either vote for or against. As a result, they stepped aside and let the Republicans win. That is the big-picture reality; accept no substitutes.

Sure, the election produced plenty of interesting sidelights worth evaluating. But by comparison, these are just ants crawling across the carpet; the low voter turnout is the rhinoceros on the living room sofa.

Gov. Rick Snyder was reelected 51-47 percent and will have ample GOP majorities to work with in the state House and Senate. In the House the Republicans picked up four seats, increasing their majority from the current 59-51 to 63-47. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans increased their majority by one seat, from the current 26-12 to 27-11.

Forget all the stuff about Snyder winning because voters recognized he was turning the economy around. Forget the rhetorical ballyhoo about Michigan voters rewarding the Republican legislators for representing core conservative principles. If, as lawmakers, they had actually represented core conservative principles as much as they claimed as candidates, the past couple of years would have played out very differently than was the case.

While we’re at it, let’s also forget all the potential political mistakes Gov. Snyder and the Republicans made — especially over the past year or so. Let’s forget their messaging miscues.  Above all, forget the idea that Gov. Snyder failed to secure the GOP’s conservative base; it was predicable that most of that base would grumpily shrug, take a deep breath, and vote for him.

The unsecured base that dominated 2014 was comprised of potential Democratic voters who simply weren’t persuaded that they had much at stake in the election. That’s the downside of liberal populism. Empty promises about what government is capable of accomplishing can and do win elections, but after the luster wears off the promises backfire. Ultimately, when the promises go unfulfilled, prove to have been unfulfillable in the first place, or fall short of expectations when fulfilled, the excitement gives way to disillusionment and apathy.

Meanwhile, conservatives who fear and oppose the growth of government-sponsored activism keep right on ticking like a Swiss watch. It’s impossible to be disillusioned or disappointed over promises one never believed in. This year those on the right of the political divide turned out and voted against the direction things have been heading nationally. With the absence of President Barack Obama’s name on the ballot, Democratic candidates at the state level became the only targets available to vote against.

As occurred in states across the nation, Gov. Snyder and the other GOP candidates in Michigan caught a wave that carried them to victory. They were fortunate to be standing on the right sand bar, and as the wave rolled by it lifted them. Thousands of potential Democratic voters who opted to stay home rather than vote caused the displacement that created the wave.

All of this was foreseen long ago. At the beginning of the year, Democratic strategists in Michigan identified apathy among Democrat-leaning voters as their biggest problem. They set upon a plan to change that situation. Lon Johnson, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, pursued an aggressive grassroots effort to boost Democratic turnout.

It was a well-conceived plan, involving thoroughly researched techniques and painstakingly executed. Doubtless, untold hours were spent on it. In the end, however, all of this proved fruitless. Voting, it seems, is a self-motivated action and attempts to artificially induce that motivation apparently just don’t work.

The plan succeeded only in convincing many Democrat voters to vote early, by absentee ballot, rather than waiting for Election Day. In terms of actually increasing Democratic turnout, the plan was a colossal flop.

Then there was the Democrats’ bread and butter issue. From early 2011 through the 2014 election, they falsely argued that Gov. Snyder and the Republicans cut education spending to give corporations a tax break. This political ploy — which has been used in various forms more than a decade — has limited value. It rallies those closely connected to conventional education institutions and forces Republicans to spend a bit of time and money setting the record straight. Beyond that, its effect on election results is minimal. In the end, the ploy’s lack of impact almost always disappoints Michigan’s Democratic political brain trust. That proved to be the case again this year.

The 2014 election could well be remembered as a repudiation of President Obama’s policies. Though the Republicans are doing all of the cheering, it was primarily the Democrats — by declining to vote — that actually forged the instrument of that repudiation.

The Republicans should understand that the electorate’s rejection of the Democrats’ political posture and rhetoric in 2014 might prove to be as temporary as it was after the 2010 elections. Things are likely to be very different in 2016. If the candidate chosen for the top of the GOP’s national ticket is as uninspiring as was the case in 2008 and 2012, the tables could turn and turn quickly.

There are obvious limitations to relying on the hope that the warts and blemishes of one’s opponents will always be perceived as uglier than one’s own. 

Morris Hood Jr. Educator Development Program

Time for the Legislature to end it

Good intentions are no substitute for sound results, and nowhere is this more evident than in public policy. Correcting a possible policy mistake should therefore be a priority when lawmakers begin work on the next state budget. An initiative that funnels minority students into teacher preparation programs is a prime candidate

The “Morris Hood Jr. Educator Development Program” will cost taxpayers $148,600 this year, but after 17 years of trying it’s hard to find any sign of progress toward its goals. Named after a Detroit Democrat who spent 28 years in the state House, including many as chairman of the Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee, the program was created shortly before Rep. Hood’s death in 1998.

According to a state website, the program is designed to “increase the number of underrepresented students, especially males, who enroll in and complete K-12 teacher education programs at the baccalaureate level at state-approved teacher education institutions.” Specifically, the program “targets African American, Latino, and Native American Students …”

Data from the state’s Center for Educational Performance and Information at least suggests the program hasn’t worked. If the program really is designed to increase the percentage of minority teachers in Michigan, then it has been a failure. According to CEPI, the percentage of minority teachers in Michigan has actually dropped from 10.2 percent of all teachers in 2007 to 8.9 percent in 2013. During the same period, enrollment of minority students has increased from 28.9 percent all of all students 31.7 percent.

Minority Teachers

Minority Students

The Hood program is one component of a larger “King-Chavez-Parks” initiative that Rep. Hood reportedly played a key role in launching. Mackinac Center analysts in 1996 recommended eliminating this initiative, too, on the grounds that “state resources should not be distributed on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

If accountability means anything it means ineffective programs should be eliminated so the scarce resources they consume can be allocated to more compelling needs. For example, the $148,000-plus spent on the Hood program is enough to fill 7,400 potholes.

This program is an excellent candidate for repeal, if only lawmakers would try.