Michigan House Considers Constitutional Amendment to Protect Data

Proposed law would provide urgently required protections to individual rights to privacy and property in Michigan

Early this year, the Michigan House of Representatives began considering a measure that would give voters the opportunity to enact a state constitutional amendment to protect their data from warrantless searches and seizures. As people shift more and more of their personal information to digital devices such as cellphones, it’s critical that this intangible form of property receive the same constitutional privacy protections as our papers, homes and persons.

House Joint Resolution C, a measure introduced in January by Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, would amend Article 1, Section 11 of the Michigan Constitution. It would include "electronic data and communications" in the list of items and places ("persons, houses, papers and possessions") that are protected from warrantless government searches and seizures.

The resolution has 11 bipartisan co-sponsors and has been reviewed by two committees. Both the House Committee on Law and Justice and the House Judiciary Committee have unanimously approved the resolution and recommended that the full House pass it. The measure needs a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate to make it to the ballot of the November 2018 general election, which is the final step before it enters the constitution.

The practical effect of this resolution would be to prevent state law enforcement agencies from collecting certain types of surveillance data without first obtaining a warrant. The data in question can be gathered through drones, facial recognition software, automatic license plate readers and even “smart meters” that measure home energy use.

If the resolution ends up changing the Michigan Constitution, it would likely interrupt a significant portion of federal surveillance, which relies heavily on information drawn from state law enforcement agencies. It could forbid state agencies from assisting warrantless federal surveillance activities. The change would also prevent state prosecutors from using federal surveillance data that had been gathered without a warrant. This means that even if federal courts approve warrantless surveillance by federal agencies such as the NSA, Michigan law enforcement officers and prosecutors would not be able to use data gathered during that surveillance against Michiganders.

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The Legislature should lose no time in passing House Joint Resolution C. The presumption of innocence and the right to privacy are eroded when technologies that citizens use in increasing numbers to improve their lives are left unprotected and even used against them.


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Central Academy Excels on High School Report Card

Ann Arbor charter builds cultural awareness, character

At Central Academy poverty represents an unusually large challenge for an Ann Arbor school, but it in no way constitutes an excuse.

Success at Central Academy, one of Michigan’s longest-standing charter schools, follows an intentional focus on breaking down barriers built by poverty and different cultural mores. This focus reflects the passion and expertise of the school’s long-time leader, Dr. Luay Shalabi, the 2015 Michigan Charter School Administrator of the Year.

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In the 1990s members of the area’s Issa family approached Shalabi, seeking a way to serve students of Middle Eastern origin whose needs were not being met in the conventional school system. Shalabi left a job in the Dearborn Public Schools and brought his advanced bilingual education training into the public charter space, where he could help build a unique program and school environment.

Noting that many school systems struggle to empathize with the challenges of poverty and to promote awareness of cultural disparities, Shalabi makes these a focus of professional development. “The student in poverty comes to school with baggage,” he says. “It’s up to the teacher to see what’s on the child’s mind. You just need to give them a listening ear, to move beyond the symptoms so they can reach the student and truly help them learn.”

Those students who start early into the charter program, he says, are best able to bridge the cultural gaps, to achieve a healthy balance of embracing what’s distinctive about their family backgrounds while respecting what’s different about those around them. A popular annual highlight at Central Academy is the schoolwide Multicultural Day where each grade adopts a different country and gives a presentation that includes elaborate art projects and demonstrations.

Cultural awareness is complemented by a strong emphasis on different character traits each month, like responsibility, commitment, cooperation and integrity. Students are required to wear school uniforms.

Thirteen different native languages are spoken among Central Academy students. One practice cited as a key to success is each classroom’s focus on mastering not only specific content but also vital English language objectives. The learning deficit most students must overcome doesn’t usually manifest itself in everyday conversation. They tend to have a much better grasp of social English than the language skills needed to advance in their academic careers.

Many students persist at the school from the elementary grades through to high school graduation. And more than 95 percent of Central Academy graduates go on to college. A number of alumni have earned advanced degrees, becoming lawyers and physicians.

Like Ann Arbor’s three top-flight traditional high schools, Central Academy receives an A on the Mackinac Center’s Context and Performance Report Card, which adjusts multiple years of test scores for student poverty rates. Central Academy’s poverty rate not only is far higher than the nearby conventional schools, but it also does a superior job surpassing expectations. Shalabi’s school finished third statewide among high schools with open admission requirements, behind two other charters.

The high poverty rates controlled for in Mackinac’s report card analysis don’t take into account dozens of refugee and other immigrant students enrolled since 2015. Many come from places like Syria and Yemen, where violent chaos and dislocation have left them years behind in formal schooling. Shalabi believes adequately addressing these students’ unique challenges will require added flexibility in state funding and accountability policies.

Shalabi’s face beams when he shows off the mural students painted, highlighting how much they have absorbed his oft-repeated message: “The choices you make today shape your world tomorrow.”

The for-profit service provider Global Education Excellence grew out of Central Academy to partner with a dozen different charters today, all but one of them operating in Michigan. GEE’s offices adjoin the elementary wing of the school’s Ann Arbor campus. Central Academy is authorized by Central Michigan University.


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Evidence? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Evidence, Imply Tourism Officials

Tourism officials make claims they can’t support

Photo by Ken Lund

National Travel and Tourism Week starts May 7. It’s an ideal time to remind taxpayers, voters and lawmakers that the state of Michigan spends $34 million each year on a program to promote tourism. Unfortunately, the program, called Pure Michigan, is demonstrably ineffective and wasteful. Both the state government and the private trade association for the tourism industry make poorly supported claims on its behalf. A recent statement by tourism lobbyist Deanna Richeson about the Mackinac Center’s research is particularly shameful.

Deanna Richeson of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association emailed out a “Grassroots Alert!” last March asking recipients to “Tell Your Legislator to Protect Pure Michigan!” It claimed that “Pure Michigan funding is at risk” and that risk was “[f]ueled by misinformation from a study by a far right think tank that has already been discredited.”

I am the co-author of a recent study on state tourism promotion — the only recent, critical analysis of such I’m aware of in the country — so I was curious about Richeson’s claim that our work had been discredited. Starting on April 18, I used email, fax, the postal service and telephone to reach out to her to ask for supporting evidence of her assertion. I have not received a response.

In my letter, I point out that I’ve found no public review of our own study to suggest that it has been discredited. The only criticism leveled at it was a factually incorrect statement made by one of the state’s tourism-related contractors, the head of a company called Longwoods International. Specifically, I wrote:

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Ms. Richeson, we take our scholarship very seriously. If our research has indeed been discredited, as you have alleged, we would like to know how and by whom. That way we can learn from any possible oversight or error on our part or — if in disagreement — offer a thoughtful rejoinder.

I was not surprised to see a state tourism official make a claim and refuse to support it with real evidence. The state’s jobs department, known as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, does likewise, not only on its jobs programs but also on tourism promotion.

The MEDC has repeatedly hired Longwoods International to estimate the “return on investment” for Pure Michigan. That contractor publishes credulity-straining claims of effectiveness but refuses to explain precisely what evidence supports those claims. The MEDC, meanwhile, is perfectly comfortable with this secretiveness.

In other words, the MEDC and its contractors are saying, “Here are assertions of fact, but we refuse to support it with evidence, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.” Richeson and her organization have repeatedly cited the Longwoods numbers as evidence of Pure Michigan’s effectiveness.

Contrast the Longwoods and MEDC secretiveness with the Mackinac Center’s approach, which is 100 percent transparent, uses publicly available data and otherwise abides by all the standard canons of scholarly research.

We determined, using 39 years of data, that state spending to promote tourism is ineffective. Among other findings, we determined that when the state spends $1 million to promote tourism, hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts share an extra $20,000 in economic activity. That represents a huge negative return on investment, and other industries in the tourism sector we looked at did no better.

Because of the stark contrast between our findings and the MEDC’s contractor, we challenged both David Lorenz, the head of Travel Michigan (an agency within the MEDC) and Richeson to a public debate. We proposed having the debate broadcast on the internet at our expense. The pair declined to debate us. The refusal is all the more frustrating given that each still repeats claims of the secretive Longwoods study and Richeson dismisses our work as “discredited” while refusing to explain such statements, even in private correspondence.

Lawmakers may finally be catching onto the impropriety of the state making claims it cannot back up. On April 28, state Reps. Steven Johnson and Martin Howrylak announced that they had asked the Office of the Auditor General to look into the methodology used by the state’s contractor, or to estimate an impact of the Pure Michigan program itself.

On May 2, Rep. Henry Yanez offered an amendment during budget discussions to eliminate the entire $34 million appropriation scheduled for the Pure Michigan program.

The Pure Michigan program doesn’t work and its key supporters can’t prove it does with real, transparent evidence. Until they can, they should refrain trumpeting the program’s success or dismissing others’ evidence as discredited.


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False Assertions Abound about Green Energy Program

Will DTE support true consumer choice in electricity?

I was pleased to see DTE’s response to my column in which I questioned the value of the MiGreenPower program. Unfortunately, the energy company’s response contained a few errors. So, to help correct the record, I’ll work through a few of the details.

DTE’s first critique employed the unique rebuttal tactic of admitting my argument was correct. It said, “Mr. Hayes first claims that customers already pay for renewable energy in their rates. This is true, of course, but only for the projects used to comply with the Renewable Portfolio Standard.” So, yes, DTE customers do already pay for renewable energy. This wasn’t a terribly effective rebuttal, but it was good for my argument.

The second critique from DTE official David Harwood claims I “fail(ed) to appreciate the program is incremental to 15 percent (renewable portfolio standard) compliance.” In fact, I was quite clear that the program will not help Michigan meet its mandated renewable energy goals and that “if built, MIGreenPower wind farms will simply be funded and built out of the goodness and generosity of Michigander’s hearts.”

The third line of critique asks, “Why would Mr. Hayes oppose a customer’s choice to support new renewable energy projects in Michigan?” Stop the presses! Members of Michigan’s electricity choice market will undoubtedly find it refreshing to see a government-protected monopoly publicly stating its support for increasing customer choice.

On this note we can all certainly agree: Expanding customer choice is a worthy policy goal. I expect, therefore, that DTE will now join me in pushing for the repeal of Public Act 286’s onerous restrictions on customer choice in electricity providers and demand the deregulation of Michigan’s electricity markets.

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In its final critique, Harwood suggests that seeking out less expensive methods of meeting renewable energy targets is in some way a “false analysis” because it doesn’t “incentivize the building of new renewable energy projects.” He further argues that these reduced costs “are merely financial transactions that take credit for excess renewable energy already generated, sometimes many years earlier and most often not from a Michigan-based project.”

First, I am very glad to see a senior DTE executive publicly exposing the accounting gimmicks that typify renewable energy targets. A much more direct method of meeting Michigan’s energy needs would be to remove protective mandates, like the renewable portfolio standard, and to stop the massive subsidies going to politically favored energy sources. Let’s open up the market and let energy sources and energy providers compete on a level playing field.

Second, mercantilism as an economic theory has been largely abandoned, though DTE seems oddly in favor of it. Attacking the idea that customers can search for more affordable renewable options than those produced solely in Michigan is exclusionary and protectionist. That is also quite a different, and contradictory, argument to the “customer choice” option company officials praised in earlier paragraphs. Arguing that customer choice should be limited to DTE-approved (and operated), Michigan-based options entails a unique redefinition of the word “choice.”

Hopefully this helps clarify some of the issues discussed in DTE’s response to my initial article. Again, I do hope that Michigan can soon welcome DTE as a supporter of actual customer choice in electricity markets.


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May 5, 2017 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

First budget votes this week

The House and Senate passed separate versions of an "omnibus" state budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Following weeks of committee hearings and votes this is the first big milestone in an annual budget process that will probably conclude late next month.


Senate Bill 111, Transfer state revenue to big developers: Passed 85 to 22 in the House

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To authorize giving ongoing cash subsidies to particular developers and business owners selected by state and local political appointees. Developers would get cash payments for up to 20 years based on the income tax paid by their employees and tenants. Fiscal agency projections suggest the process could transfer up to $1.8 billion state tax dollars to the developers.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 202, Exempt no-cash social media games from gambling ban: Passed 103 to 4 in the House

To establish that the state’s laws against gambling do not apply to a “social media internet game” that rewards players with either a free play or an extended period of playing time as a result of chance or uncertain event. The bill excludes “fantasy sports” games from its provisions.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 129, Regulate small copper mines different than big ones: Passed 74 to 35 in the House

To establish a separate regulatory regime over small native copper mining operations (meaning ones that generate less than 75,000 tons of waste rock a year to extract copper “in its elemental form”). Local governments would be preempted from imposing additional regulations and restrictions.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


House Bill 4215, Repeal rule banning car running in driveway: Passed 77 to 30 in the House

To repeal a ban on leaving an unattended vehicle running other than on a public street or highway. This would allow warming up the car in the driveway in winter.

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.


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Legally Innocent, Yet Behind Bars

Michigan’s cash bail system means pre-trial justice may not be so just

Photo by www.weisspaarz.com

Michigan’s Criminal Justice Policy Commission recently heard from representatives of Oakland and Kent counties about Michigan’s system of pretrial detention. At the request of the Legislature, the commission has the task of examining Michigan’s criminal justice system to identify ways to save money and improve its effectiveness.

Two people who testified about the state’s current system urged a look at state laws on bonds. Barbara Hankey, of Oakland County Community Corrections, and Timothy Bouwhuis, of Kent County Court Services, talked about reducing or eliminating the practice of paying money, or bail, to secure the release of a criminal defendant being detained awaiting trial.

Hankey and Bouwhuis noted that six in 10 inmates in American jails have not been convicted of a crime and are legally innocent. In other words, most people in jail are not convicts, but rather people awaiting trial. And most of those pretrial inmates are there because they cannot afford to pay bail.

In 2016, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit against a judge who had been jailing poor defendants for failing to pay fines, fees and minor tickets. Although Michigan judges are supposed to take a defendant’s ability to pay into account when imposing fines and issuing sentences, there are no clear rules to ensure this happens consistently.

Michigan’s bail law authorizes judges to release criminal defendants who are being detained pending their trial in exchange for a sum of money determined by the judge. The court holds the money until the defendant has made all the required court appearances, and then returns it. The defendant who misses an appearance forfeits the bail and could be charged with the crime of failure to appear.

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But this system means that taxpayers often spend a lot of money detaining people who are charged with minor crimes and can’t afford to post bail. These defendants may not be flight risks, but are nevertheless cut off from their jobs and families pending their trial because for them, even a relatively small bail amount may be prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, people who are accused of committing dangerous crimes may be able to afford to pay bail and are then released into the community.

The conservative criminal justice reform group Right on Crime has proposed several solutions to the problem. One was also brought up by Hankey at the commission hearing: Take advantage of actuarial methods to determine each defendant’s risk of absconding or being re-arrested. Asking questions such as whether the defendant has had prior arrests or convictions, prior failures to appear, and prior violent convictions has been shown to accurately determine that person’s needs and flight risk.

It is a key role of government to oversee a criminal justice system that ensures punishment for bad behavior. But a good criminal justice system does so in a fair and efficient way. No innocent person should be punished, and the state should carefully study the evidence on whether Michigan’s current cash bail system can be improved.


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Michigan Congressmen Introduce Bipartisan Licensing Bill

Sen. Peters, Rep. Walberg working together to remove needless barriers to employment

Occupational licensing laws are a growing and significant barrier to gainful employment, affecting more than one out of every five workers in Michigan. A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives and senators is proposing a reform that would take a look at these regulations.

The research on this issue strongly suggests that licensing rules are largely arbitrary and do more harm than good, costing jobs and raising prices without adding real protection for consumers. But once an industry is licensed — everyone from painters to milk testers to barbers to real estate agents is licensed these days — it becomes nearly impossible to roll back the rules. That’s because a licensing requirement creates a protected interest group that lobbies hard to keep the rules in place to protect its industry from additional competition.

A new bipartisan, bicameral bill in Congress would work toward taking a more rational look at licensing rules across the nation. In a press release, Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan’s 7th District says the bill would “give state governments tools to help initiate reforms to ensure bureaucratic requirements are not creating unnecessary barriers for those seeking to enter the workforce.” It hopes to achieve this by freeing up some money the federal government sends to states for career and technical education. Under the bill, governors could use that money to pay for the “identification, consolidation, or elimination of licenses or certifications which pose an unnecessary barrier to entry for aspiring workers and provide limited consumer protection.”

Walberg, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill in the U.S. House, added, “The web of occupational licensing requirements are some of the most burdensome obstacles for aspiring workers and entrepreneurs. Too often,” he continued, “the scope and complexity of these regulations go beyond their intended purpose and place unnecessary barriers on individuals trying to use their skills to earn a paycheck or grow a small business. This bipartisan, bicameral bill gives states additional tools to implement reforms that reduce excessive licensing requirements and boost opportunities for job creation.”

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Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, also of Michigan, is a co-sponsor of a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. He said, “Too many Americans are unable to obtain jobs because of the excessive hurdles to gain a required license. This bipartisan legislation will give states the flexibility to streamline the licensing process and reduce the barriers to good-paying jobs that enable workers to provide for their families, send their kids to school and save for retirement.”

Licensing has a large and mostly negative effect in Michigan. A report from Morris Kleiner of the University of Minnesota finds that Michigan’s licensing regulations cost the state as many as 125,000 jobs and increase prices by an estimated $2,700 per family.

Michigan has already made some progress in rolling back needless regulations, but the state needs to do more. Even if Congress fails to pass this bill and give states an extra incentive to reform occupational licensing laws, policymakers in Michigan government should continue their work to remove or reduce the barriers to gainful employment.


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A Better Way to Fund Universities

Give the money to students

Michigan lawmakers are going to take another $1.5 billion from taxpayers this year and distribute it to state universities. That is roughly $390 for every household in the state. Yet it may be that in no other area of government is there less accountability than in sending taxpayer dollars to these institutions.

The deal that the state has with universities is simple. Dr. Richard Vedder, a commenter on higher education policy, explained it this way: The state fills up bombers with taxpayer dollars each year and flies them over the 15 state universities to drop their payloads. The only discussion that goes on is whether to fill the planes with smaller or larger cash bombs. This year, the governor wants 3 percent more money, the House 1.8 percent and the Senate 2.5 percent.

Ostensibly, the only thing that taxpayers get in return is a discount on tuition fees, at least compared to what these institutions charge out-of-state students.

Lawmakers ought to have a frank conversation about whether the transfer of wealth to state universities serves taxpayers’ interests. But, assuming that the state is going to continue making these transfers, there are ways to improve them.

For starters, the state should be funding students instead of ivory towers. That is, the state should fund scholarships for students rather than just dropping money on institutions. If higher education is about getting better-educated residents, funding the students ties the means to the outcomes.

There are other benefits. Funding students directly would also eliminate the discrepancy in aid between the different state universities. Currently, Oakland University gets an amount equivalent to $2,835 per Michigan student while the University of Michigan receives $12,625 per state student.

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Lawmakers ought to discuss whether that student support should be general and unrestricted, needs-based, or a mixture. There are a lot of college students who come from families that can afford to pay the tuition. Giving them a general scholarship would transfer other people’s money to those who arguably don’t need it. In addition, giving someone taxpayer dollars to do something they would have done anyway and paid for themselves is not money well spent.

Universities currently recognize this and respond similarly — they keep average tuition high and offer need-based scholarships.

The state could also structure the scholarship to encourage schools to graduate students on time. Lowering levels of support after a student passes standard graduation periods may do the trick.

This would not fix everything that is wrong with higher education. Students as a whole still do not seem to be very cost-conscious about higher education decisions. Even while schools perpetually increase tuition, students find the means to pay it. The federal government supports these decisions by ensuring that students can borrow their way to almost any degree they’d like. This means that schools too often compete over the amenities they offer students rather than the value they provide for the price. This is in addition to bloated administrative staffs that are also cost drivers for colleges.

Converting from the current cash “bomber” policies to state-funded student scholarships would be an improvement. It would emphasize that higher education is about Michigan students obtaining a higher education, rather than simply transferring taxpayers’ money to favored institutions.


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State aid for colleges still wasteful

In a recent piece in Bridge Magazine, I made two key points: 1) By subsidizing public universities, Michigan taxpayers are redistributing money upward — from middle-class and low-income families to the well-off and educated; and 2) Many Michigan universities are not doing a particularly good job with the money they receive from taxpayers.

On the first point, I focused on the University of Michigan, which receives the most money per student from Michigan taxpayers. I write:

The vast majority of students at the University of Michigan come from wealthy families. Less than 20 percent of students hail from families with a household income below $60,000 while more than 60 percent of students are from families that make more than $100,000. And the university has an endowment of nearly $10 billion – which has helped it continue to cut the cost of a degree even through the Great Recession and state budget cuts.

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As [U-M President] Schlissel has said, “If you come from a family that makes less than $70,000 a year, U-M is free. You don’t pay tuition.”

U-M’s efforts to make college degrees more affordable for low-income families are worthy of praise. But the fact remains that the university primarily benefits students from high-income backgrounds. So the question remains: why should the average Michigan household, which suffered a nearly 20 percent loss of income during the “lost decade,” have to pay higher taxes for universities like U-M that mainly serve the already well-to-do?

A higher education lobbying group responded saying universities have not changed in nearly 1,000 years in their “teaching of and searching for the truth.” The Michigan Association of State Universities called my article “dogma” which “got so many facts wrong.” Below is what the article claims I got wrong and my response.

Wrong Data on State Appropriations: “The state funds colleges at wildly different rates, ranging from about $2,700… to around $11,500 per pupil…”

  • NOT TRUE. The state appropriated a range of $2,711 to $8,568 per student in FY2016. The Mackinac Center decided to leave out select students when they made their calculations and didn’t disclose that in their column. In doing so, they overstated the highest per student funding by 34%.

When doing the analysis to find the cost per student, I only used students from Michigan in the calculation, leaving out students from other states. This makes sense, since Michigan taxpayers should care most about the funding of higher education on behalf of students who are from Michigan. Given that context, my figures are correct. Instead of just labeling them “not true,” the article would have done better by explaining why out-of-state students should be included in this calculation.

Wrong Analysis of Graduation Rates: “The typical Michigan university struggles to graduate more than 60 percent of its students.”

  • MISLEADING. According to the State of Michigan, 67% of students at Michigan public universities graduate within the national standard of six years. Only 44% of these students are even attending full-time, making our state university graduates’ successes even more notable. Universities aren’t mandatory K-12 schools—our students aren’t dropouts if they transfer to another institution or if don’t finish in a set time period; instead, they often continue to take classes on their own schedule. Our students include single parents, adults seeking retraining for the new workforce, and students working full-time.

The numbers I cite in the piece are from 2011, which show that only four of the 15 public universities in Michigan graduate more than 60 percent of its students. The numbers this article cites uses a little bit different measurement. The state of Michigan citation considers it a graduation if a student completes a degree anywhere within six years.

Still, the most recent numbers from 2015 show that six public universities achieved a graduation rate above 60 percent while seven graduated less than 60 percent of their students and two didn’t report. Even given this preferred data used in this rebuttal to my piece, my statement that the “typical university struggles to graduate more than 60 percent of its students” is justified.

Wrong Attributions: “According to MIRS News, University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel said, ‘This isn’t really conservatism, this is radicalism.’ (The income tax cut would have been small enough that the state budget was projected to grow even without this additional revenue.)”

  • NOT TRUE. This refers to the recent showdown in the Michigan House of Representatives over a complete repeal of the state income tax, which was later negotiated down to a tax cut before the vote failed. President Schlissel, and other university presidents and chancellors, spoke with members of the House and was quoted above, on Feb. 21, 2017—almost two days before the 2 AM vote on the amended HB 4001. The Mackinac Center incorrectly attributes President Schlissel’s comments on the original version of HB 4001 to a later draft of the bill that did not even exist at the time. Meanwhile, HB 4001 in its original form would have led to the complete repeal of the income tax without a replacement, nearly wiping out the state’s entire general fund. And that is radicalism, at best—I’d go further and call it nihilism.

Here is President Schlissel's full quote regarding an income tax cut: "My concern is the magnitude of resources that we're talking about -- over $1 billion over the next year or so -- considering the size of the state budget, it's hard to imagine higher ed not being affected with such a drastic, dramatic cut. This isn't really conservatism, this is radicalism."

Based on the full quote, it appears that President Schlissel was in fact referencing the impact of a limited reduction in the income tax rate. The Senate Fiscal Agency said the proposed reduction in the income tax cut rate would have cost the state budget $680 million in year one and $1.12 billion in year two. It’s possible that President Schlissel thought that eliminating the income tax completely would only amount to $1 billion of foregone revenue, but I doubt it.

Wrong State Budget Data: “Since [2007], the state budget has increased by more than $10 billion - significantly more than inflation.”

  • NOT TRUE. Here it is in glorious color: data from the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency shows the size of the state budget from FY2007 to FY2017. And guess what—when you adjust for inflation, that’s only a $4.5 billion increase in the budget. Further, one can plainly see that the increase is almost all federal funding.

I’m honestly confused about why my statement was labeled “not true,” when the link the author points to shows that the Michigan budget has increased from $43.6 billion to $54.2 billion since 2007. It’s true that the $10 billion is nominal (which I indicate by adding “significantly more than inflation”) and that federal dollars in the state budget have driven this increase. But those facts do not make my statement “not true.”

The key points to my original piece stands: “The state spends $1.5 billion, mostly out of the general fund, on higher education. The evidence shows that this contributes to higher tuition without leading to more college graduates overall, reducing the number of educated residents leaving the state, or producing economic growth. Much of this money could be better spent elsewhere.”


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It’s Time for Michigan to End Civil Forfeiture

The state takes at least $20 million a year from Michiganders

Editor's Note: This op-ed was originally published by The Hill on April 19, 2017.

Michigan has made great strides to reforming civil forfeiture — the process that allows law enforcement to take someone’s property and forfeit it to the government. But Michigan still has laws that are among the weakest in the nation when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of citizens.

In 2015, legislators passed a package of bills that created new transparency requirements for forfeited assets and raised the standard of evidence the government must meet before owning anyone’s property. As a result, we will now be able to find out how much property and money is forfeited each year and how the assets were used. And courts now can only find someone guilty when there is “clear and convincing” evidence rather than the previous standard of just a “preponderance” of evidence.

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Legislators passed further reform concerning bond requirements related to forfeiture. Michigan was one of five states that required an upfront bond in order for citizens to challenge a forfeiture. If law enforcement seized property, the owner would have to pay 10 percent of the worth of the assets in order to try to get it back. Even if a person was never found guilty, they could lose their cash. The law ending that bond requirement was signed by Gov. Snyder on Jan. 3.

These were much needed reforms, but lawmakers should go further. Government entities are still able to take ownership of property without proving a person’s guilt. And the assets go back to the law enforcement offices which originally seized them, meaning there is a financial incentive to abuse this process. There are many examples of this:

These are just a few recent examples. The state takes at least $20 million every year in assets from people, often with no charges ever being filed.

This system needs to change. Ten states require law enforcement to convict a person of a crime before taking ownership of their property. Rep. Peter Lucido introduced House Bill 4158 which would add Michigan to the list. New Mexico, Nebraska, and North Carolina went further, banning the practice of civil forfeiture altogether. There, citizens must be convicted of a crime and then law enforcement must demonstrate in criminal court that the activity led to ill-gotten gains.

2017 is a new year and a new legislative term. A poll of Michigan citizens’ shows 90 percent believe people should be convicted of a crime before someone’s property can be transferred to the state. Let’s make that a reality.

  • Dr. Wally Kowalski from Van Buren County had his bank accounts frozen and expensive tools and equipment taken from his home for months before being charged with a crime.
  • Kenneth and Mary Murray of Traverse City have no current charges filed against them, but a local narcotic team is trying to take thousands of dollars and their house.
  • Tarik Dehko and his daughter Sandra George had $35,000 seized by the IRS from funds for their grocery store in Fraser. The feds never pressed charges and were forced to return the money only after a public outcry.
  • Gerald and Royetta Ostipow had their property seized by Saginaw County police, including a classic muscle car. Law enforcement found marijuana on property they owned — occupied by their son — but they lost some of their property anyway without ever being charged with a crime.

These are just a few recent examples. The state takes at least $20 million every year in assets from people, often with no charges ever being filed.

This system needs to change. Ten states require law enforcement to convict a person of a crime before taking ownership of their property. Rep. Peter Lucido introduced House Bill 4158 which would add Michigan to the list. New Mexico, Nebraska, and North Carolina went further, banning the practice of civil forfeiture altogether. There, citizens must be convicted of a crime and then law enforcement must demonstrate in criminal court that the activity led to ill-gotten gains.

2017 is a new year and a new legislative term. A poll of Michigan citizens’ shows 90 percent believe people should be convicted of a crime before someone’s property can be transferred to the state. Let’s make that a reality.


Related Articles:

Reitz Quoted on Criminal Justice Reform Efforts

Criminal Justice Reforms Signed Into Law, More Left to Do

Finding Agreement in Criminal Justice Reform

Senate Votes for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

State Media Covers Push for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform