The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

Beware 'Wimpy' Tax Cut Promises

Politicians will gladly give tax relief later for a big tax increase today

Both the Michigan House and Senate have included a provision in their competing road funding proposals to cut the state income tax in 2019, but only if the amount of revenue deposited in the state general fund increases at a rate faster than inflation.

To be clear, any time its members want, the Michigan Legislature can cut the 4.25 percent state income tax rate with just a simple majority vote and the governor’s signature – no fancy trigger mechanism is required.

The gaping loophole in this tax cut trigger proposal is that “general fund” is not a precisely defined accounting category, but is instead a political construct whose definition is subject to the whims of politicians. A simple legislative majority can easily shift current revenue streams away from the GF and into some other account. They can also game GF deposits — for example, by causing more revenue to flow into the state’s rainy day fund instead.

So while the gas and vehicle registration tax hikes approved by the House and Senate would be very real if enacted, promises of a future income tax cuts are far less concrete, even when they don’t include questionable trigger devices. Worse, the legislative track record gives ample cause for skepticism.

A classic example occurred in 2002, when a 23-year phaseout of the widely reviled Single Business Tax was terminated. The steps taken to avoid accountability made this a particularly unseemly action.

The 1999 law authorizing the SBT phaseout had a provision canceling the next rate reduction if the state rainy day fund fell below $250 million. In 2002, legislators wanted to use rainy day fund savings to avoid spending cuts in the face of stagnant revenues. But doing so would prevent the next scheduled business tax cut, and Republican legislators did not want a vote to do so on their records.

So they advanced two bills: one to make the rainy day fund withdrawal and a second to allow the SBT phaseout to proceed even if the rainy day fund was emptied. Just in case, the first bill had a tie-bar provision, which prohibited it from going into effect unless the second bill allowing the tax cut also became law.

But then, Republican Gov. John Engler announced he would veto that second bill.

And that’s where legislators got sneaky. In a voice vote taken in the House on July 3, 2002, an amendment was adopted that stripped the tie-bar provision from the rainy day bill. The amended bill was then passed by a wide margin.

To recap:

  1. If the Legislature voted to empty the rainy day fund, a business tax cut would be canceled.
  2. So legislators offered a second bill to allow the tax cut anyway, and made taking money from the rainy day fund contingent on this bill becoming law.
  3. But when Engler announced he would veto the second bill, legislators quietly removed the provision requiring both bills to become law.
  4. Both houses passed both bills, and Republicans boasted of having both balanced the budget and saved the SBT phaseout.

Two weeks later Engler, as promised, vetoed the bill allowing the business tax cut to proceed and the SBT phaseout died.

One fiscally conservative lawmaker asked me at the time, “How can I know with certainty what Engler will do?”

Older readers will recall that Engler had a reputation as the exact opposite of a wishy-washy flip-flopper in such situations.

This so-called temporary suspension of the tax phaseout became permanent as Michigan’s “one-state recession” deepened. In 2007, the SBT metastasized into the equally reviled Michigan Business Tax and was increased 22 percent, part of a big tax hike that also raised the state income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent. This last provision came with another statutory promise to reverse the income tax hike by 2015.

Not until 2011 and a comprehensive tax reform package from Gov. Rick Snyder did businesses finally get relief from the toxic SBT/MBT tax regime. Ironically, the same bill that delivered it also broke another tax cut promise: the one made in 2007 to gradually reverse that year’s big income tax increase. Had that not happened, the income tax rate would now be 3.9 percent instead of 4.25 percent.

The idea of placing future tax cuts in law is to force future politicians to go on record if they want to stop the cut. The details of the 2002 vote to suspend a promised tax cut show the lengths to which politicians will go to avoid accountability for this. Adding contingency clauses to future tax cuts makes it more likely they won’t really happen, by making it easier for future politicians to dodge accountability for blocking them.


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REI recently announced it will be closed on Black Friday this year. The outdoor retail chain says it is encouraging its 12,000 employees from 143 locations to make a new tradition of spending time outside that day rather than shopping.

In years past, like many other retailers, REI offered customers special deals the day after Thanksgiving. But now, REI is hoping to capitalize on the idea that a lot of people are turned off by holiday shopping around Thanksgiving. It launched an #OPTOUTSIDE campaign, encouraging the public to upload personal photos of their outdoor adventures or use photos provided by REI to try to convince others to spend Black Friday at a lookout spot rather than a check out line.

This campaign could be in reaction to some retailers more eagerly responding to customers’ desire for a good deal. Some stores are now open Thanksgiving Day, some launching sales the day before Thanksgiving.

Menards, a home improvement company headquartered in Wisconsin with more than 280 stores in 14 states, says it has never been open on Thanksgiving.

These retailers are making voluntary choices based on sentiments from their workers and customers. That’s a beautiful thing.

Customers, in kind, are making their own voluntary choices — whether to spend the days around Thanksgiving shopping, exploring the outdoors, or doing something else altogether.

The key is voluntarism.

To force stores to close on or around a holiday is taking away freedom. In Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, laws prevent retailers from opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Earlier this year, Members of Parliament discussed banning Black Friday shopping altogether in the United Kingdom.

It should not be for government to decide. Customers are voluntarily deciding for themselves whether they want to shop on or around the holiday and retailers should have the right to open or close when they want.

Some retailers give their employees premium pay, extra hours, free food and other incentives for working on or around the busy holiday-shopping season. Workers will decide if they want to work for an organization that decides to stay open or close on or around a holiday. For some, having the time off is a perk. For others, the financial incentives are a perk.

It’s the beauty of freedom: the ability to make voluntary choices and the ability to express why you believe your choice is good. You get to decide.


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October 23, 2015 MichiganVotes Weekly Roll Call Report

Gas tax hike, road funding, criminalization, 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!

House Bill 4738, Increase gas and diesel tax: Passed 56 to 50 in the House

To increase the state gasoline and diesel taxes to 22.3 cents per gallon starting Oct. 1, 2018, and after that index the amount to inflation. The current gas and diesel tax rates are 19 cents and 15 cents per gallon, respectively. The bill would increase the diesel tax to 19 cents on Oct. 1, 2017.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4736, Increase vehicle registration tax: Passed 55 to 51 in the House

To increase the annual vehicle registration (license plate) tax by around 40 percent per vehicle. Most of the revenue from this tax goes to the state road budget. Also, to impose a surtax on electric and alternative fuel vehicles that use the roads but don't pay gas tax.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4370, Earmark some income tax to roads; increase homestead tax credit: Passed 62 to 44 in the House

To increase the value of a "homestead property tax credit" that homeowners and renters can claim on their state income tax, and increase household income caps that limit eligibility for this credit (which essentially reimburses some property tax paid on a person's home). The bill is intended to offset around $200 million of the $600 million of gas tax and vehicle registration tax hikes included in a House road funding proposal.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 414, Roll back income tax if state revenue rises: Passed 61 to 45 in the House

To potentially roll back future income tax rates if the amount of revenue deposited into the state "general fund" in a given year grows faster than inflation, starting in 2019. Since the legislature controls which revenue goes into this fund, any future income tax cut would still be largely at the discretion of each legislature, as under current law. This is part of the latest House road funding package.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4480, Don't disparage one parent for protecting child from other: Passed 76 to 28 in the House

To establish that in determining the “best interest of child” in child custody and visitation cases a court may not “consider negatively” actions taken by a parent in self defense or to protect a child from “the child's abusive parent.”

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 326, Establish B-24 Liberator as symbolic "state airplane": Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To establish that the B-24 Liberator flown by the U.S. Army Air Force and Navy in WW II shall be deemed the “official airplane” of the state of Michigan. The B-24 was a sophisticated four-engine bomber produced in huge numbers by the Ford Motor Company on an unprecedented mile-length assembly line at the purpose-built Willow Run plant in Wayne County

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4182, Limit local governmental body “phone-in” voting: Passed 30 to 7 in the Senate

To establish that it is a violation of the Open Meetings Act for a member of an elected public body to cast a vote on a decision without being physically present. This would not apply in cases of an emergency or serious illness as defined by the bill, or if a public body is using a video conference system.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 421, Make it a crime to not pull over for ambulance: Passed 36 to 2 in the Senate

To make it a crime subject to 90 days is jail to not yield the right of way and pull over at the approach of an emergency vehicle with its flashing lights and siren activated. Under current law this is a civil offense subject to fines of $100 to $250. Also, to authorize up to 15 years in prison if the failure to yield costs the life of emergency personnel, and two years if it causes an injury

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


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House Road Bill Could Be Better, but a Step in the Right Direction

A mix of new and existing revenues to fund road repair

Last night, the state House passed a road funding package that will raise $600 million in new revenues to help fund road repair and improvements. An additional $600 million for roads would be redirected over time from the state’s income tax.

While not ideal, this plan is better than the one the state came up with earlier this year when it tried to extract $2.0 billion from taxpayers via Proposal 1. The reader will recall that the proposal failed by a historic 80-20 margin. The new revenues from tax and fee increases expected to be generated by the yesterday’s House bill amount to only half of what Gov. Rick Snyder has long wanted. The entire package would be completely phased in by 2021.

Published reports last night indicate that the plan works out as follows:

  • A $400 million increase in registration fees (about $40 per passenger vehicle);
  • A 7.3-cent increase in the diesel fuel tax and a 3.3-cent hike in the gasoline tax;
  • A change to homestead property tax credits;
  • An opportunity for income tax relief beginning in 2019 if growth in General Fund dollars outstrips inflation.

Lowering personal income tax rates is a laudable goal, but future policymakers may find it all too easy to justify delaying those cuts by manipulating the numbers of the General Fund. An earlier look at this idea suggested that simply redirecting a portion of General Fund revenues by earmarking tax revenues to other funds would prevent income tax cuts.

Taxpayers have reason to look at this promise of future tax cuts with caution. There are, after all, precedents that a future Legislature could rely on should it choose to not keep the promise. In 2007, the Legislature and Gov. Granholm hiked personal income taxes 11.5 percent and promised that the increase would start getting rolled back after Granholm left office. Once Snyder took office, he and legislators repealed that scheduled tax cut. They permitted a rollback of 0.1 percentage point in the tax rate but scrapped the rest of the promise.

Road funding has been loosely based on the principle of a user fee, by which the people using the roads are the ones who are paying for them in vehicle registration fees and fuel taxes. The principle is only loosely applied because the taxes don’t quite fall exactly on road usage. For example, you pay taxes on the fuels you put into your lawn mower, but it’s not causing much damage to the roads. And there is more tax money being spent on the roads than what is generated by these taxes.

The House plan continues on in that vein — raising taxes tied to road use and fees tied to automobiles to get the money needed for road repairs. To the degree that the House stuck to the five road funding principles we drew from a free-market perspective, we applaud them. But arguably more could be done.

We drew a road map of more than $2 billion in budget cuts and reforms to help lawmakers achieve the goal of putting more money into the roads. Our 35 ideas were highlighted along with two lists of budget reforms produced during the Granholm era that would provide $1.5 billion in gross savings and $2.98 billion in General Fund savings, respectively.

But the House did not even look at budget cuts. Instead, it turned to income tax revenues, which will increase over time, and earmarked a portion of them. In six years, the earmarking will account for $600 million, according to the plan. But in the last two years, tax receipts grew more than that, and they are very likely to grow much more than the plan anticipates. As a result, legislators will be able to devote more money to the roads while still increasing spending on other priorities. In other words, the House plan will not require cuts anywhere in the budget.

The House-passed plan is far from ideal, but little is in politics. It is, however, another step in the right direction. Will the governor and Senate try to persuade the House to reach deeper into the wallets of Michigan citizens, or are they willing to compromise on a plan that takes only half of what the governor has said he wanted in new taxes? Stay tuned. It should be an interesting show.


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The Politics of Speed Limits

Some special interests oppose raising interstate speed limits

With a high number of drivers exceeding the posted speed limits on Michigan interstates and rural highways, one has to wonder why anyone would oppose legalizing higher speeds. For insight, look no further than the five hours of testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on House Bills 4423 to 4427 given on Sept. 29, Oct. 6 and Oct. 13. The bills modify speed limits on roads to reflect what is known as the 85th percentile, or the speed not exceeded by 85 percent of drivers.

Those speaking out against the bills include members of the Michigan State Police, the auto insurance industry, the nonmotorized transportation lobby, the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Department of Transportation. Each of these groups has a strong vested interest not to see speed limits increase. By listening to their comments, you can judge for yourself if safety is the number one reason on their minds.

First, some background: Speed studies by the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan State Police on sections of Interstates 94, 96, 69 and 75 show that speeds of 76 to 81 mph are the norm (the 85th percentile, as it is known in traffic engineering). On I-96 near Milford, for example, 85 percent of drivers exceed the speed limit. All of those drivers could potentially get a ticket, and many do. Police patrols can pull over virtually anyone at their own discretion.

When people drive faster, the conventional wisdom has been that the roads are less safe. Crash data, however, does not support this. According to the state police, though more cars are on the roads, total crashes fell in 2014 to 298,699 from 373,028 in 2004.

The Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Transportation said they were taking a neutral stand on increasing limits, but their testimony suggests otherwise. For example, a researcher who said he was not speaking for MDOT but whose testimony was based on research MDOT paid for, told the panel we shouldn’t broadly raise limits. He testified that higher speeds would increase the severity of crashes, cause people to drive faster or jeopardize federal road funding, though his own research did not strongly support these conclusions. He suggested raising limits on certain candidate locations, considering things like favorable roadway geometry. Drivers assess roadway geometry all the time and slow down accordingly. Few would attempt hairpin curves at a 70 mph clip.

Likewise, representatives from the Michigan State Police testified that limits should not be increased, saying there is an epidemic of distracted driving. Examples included familiar horror stories such as “balancing a checkbook while steering” or “driving with knees while eating.” They didn’t say these things actually happened or led to crashes. MSP cited an increase in distracted driving tickets as evidence of less attentive driving, but that demonstrates nothing more than police writing more tickets for a particular offense. Ten years ago, MSP led the charge in getting speed limits to reflect actual driving behavior, so this about-face is a wonder.

Or is it? MSP would need fewer patrols to write speeding tickets, making arguments for higher budgets less convincing. There would be one less reason for patrols to pull cars over, which could result in fewer opportunities to seize property and cash through civil asset forfeiture.

MDOT testified that raising limits on roads would cost time and money. True, but what the agency is proposing — micromanaging speed limits with exhaustive studies — could be even more costly.

With fewer tickets, insurance companies would have less reason to levy surcharges for drivers with points on their licenses. It is almost impossible to calculate how many millions of dollars this costs Michigan drivers each year in addition to ticket fines. Premium-setting based on license points is a murky science to the outsider. Michigan drivers can’t even see how many points they have on their license — one of the criteria for setting premiums — without paying the Secretary of State $10.

Municipalities would have less money for themselves and their courts with higher limits. Most speed ticket revenue goes to the state library fund, but some cities and townships get around this safeguard by pleading speeding tickets down to zero-point local ordinance violations that can sometimes cost double the price of a speed ticket. Municipalities can then keep the entire fine amount for themselves. HB 4426 essentially eliminates points on tickets for going 5 mph or less over the limit, making it harder for local prosecutors to deal points.

But opposition to the bills was not universal.

“These bills will virtually eliminate artificially low speed limits on main roads which facilitate speed traps for revenue,” testified Jim Walker of the National Motorists Association.

He said higher limits would allow police patrols to focus on the truly egregious speeders and help restore respect for traffic laws.

“Most rational people know that artificially low limits which arbitrarily define 50 to 70 or 90 percent of the safe drivers as violators are not about safety,” said Walker.

“Enforcement for profits is always wrong.”


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The Case for Energy Competition

Study shows states without a monopoly have better, cheaper power

Opponents of electricity choice make two common arguments against injecting more competition in the energy industry: it will lead to higher prices and it will decrease investment in new energy generation. Fortunately, data are available to assess each of these claims, and a recent report by the Compete Coalition, a group of hundreds of electricity stakeholders, does just that.

The study divides the U.S. into two groups: the 14 jurisdictions in the contiguous U.S. (13 states plus D.C.) where electricity customers have been free to choose their supplier (“competitive states”) and the 35 contiguous states where customers must purchase electricity from monopoly providers (“monopoly states”). Comparing the price and generation trends of these two groups is one of the best ways to analyze the effects of competition-inducing electricity policies.

The analysis shows that competitive states do a better job of holding down prices compared to monopoly states. From 1997 to 2014, prices in competitive states increased by 41 percent, but in monopoly states the increase was larger at 60 percent. Adjusted for inflation, electricity prices in competitive states actually declined over this period by 5 percent, but grew by 8 percent in monopoly states.

When it comes to investments in new energy generation, the research shows that monopoly states did invest more from 1997 to 2013, adding 206,800 MW of power, a 41 percent increase. But competitive states made significant investments too, adding 73,900 MW, a 28 percent increase.

While monopoly states invested more overall, there is another aspect of energy generation that should be considered, what this new study calls “potency.” Potency is a measure of how growth in generation compares to growth in consumption. It’s a valuable statistic because it can identify when a state is underinvesting even while it expands its generation capacity.

In terms of potency, competitive states clearly outperformed monopoly states. Generation production in competitive states outpaced consumption growth from 1997 to 2013, whereas consumption growth in monopoly states rose faster than those states added generation. This suggests that competitive states did a better job of meeting future capacity needs than monopoly states over this period.

Policymakers in Lansing have been discussing eliminating the little bit of electricity competition that exists in this state: 10 percent of the market is open to competition, 90 percent is guaranteed to the state’s public utilities. But based on the data in this new report, it appears that a low-cost way of making Michigan electricity prices more competitive nationally (an important factor in attracting new business investment) is to embrace more electricity competition, not less.


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Gov. Snyder Signs Forfeiture Reform Bills

Media covers reforms and Mackinac's role

Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed into law a package of bills that institutes new limits on how civil asset forfeiture is conducted and reported.

The new laws increase the standard for a forfeiture from a preponderance of the evidence to the more stringent clear and convincing standard. They also require greater disclosure from law enforcement agencies about the property and profits from seizures.

The Mackinac Center was influential in supporting these reforms. MLive notes:

The reform push has brought together lawmakers and groups from various sides of the political spectrum — including conservatives, liberals and libertarians — who ultimately want to see even bigger changes.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, in a recent joint report, recommended eliminating civil asset forfeiture entirely, requiring a conviction before property could be forfeited.

The report also recommended Michigan stop allowing local law enforcement agencies to pad their own budgets through forfeiture, eliminating any profit motive by directing revenues to a separate government department.

The full article is available at MLive. Macomb Daily, the Huffington Post and Forbes also covered the story.


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October 16, 2015 MichiganVotes Weekly Roll Call Report

Banning social promotion; personal protection orders for pets

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Senate Bill 103, Reduce “student growth” portion of teacher rating criteria: Passed 97 to 8 in the House

To base just 20 percent of a teacher's "effectiveness" rating on actual progress of students in the teacher's classroom as measured by state assessments, instead of as much as 50 percent suggested by a 2011 teacher tenure reform law. Also, to let school districts develop their own evaluation tools for other parts of the rating rather than ones prescribed by the state. A school would be prohibited from assigning students to a class in the same subject for two years in a row taught by a teacher rated “ineffective” in that subject, but new students could still be assigned to that teacher.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4822, Ban “social promotions” for third graders who can’t read

To prohibit “social promotions” of third graders who have not reached minimum reading benchmarks, subject to many conditions and exceptions, and with requirements that additional "intervention" programs be created (including summer school) and individual tutoring provided before a student is actually held back. This would not take effect until the 2019-2020 school year.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4476, Restrict imposing mediation in bad domestic relations disputes: Passed 104 to 1 in the House

To prohibit a court from ordering the parties in a domestic relations dispute to enter mediation against either's will if there is a personal protection or "no contact" order restraining one of them, or if either is involved in a child abuse or neglect proceeding.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

House Bill 4478, Authorize PPOs for threats against pets: Passed 96 to 9 in the House

To authorize courts to issue a personal protection order against an individual who threatens, harms or tries to take a petitioner's pet, or tries to stop the petitioner's efforts get the pet back if it has been taken.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 240, Ban powdered alcohol: Passed 102 to 3 in the House

To ban the sale, use or possession of “powdered alcohol” in Michigan.

Who Voted “Yes” and Who Voted “No”

Senate Bill 446, Extend authority to ban deer feeding: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate on

To extend until 2020 the sunset on Department of Natural Resources authority to prohibit feeding deer and elk.

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


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Beware Claims of State Budget Cuts

Revenues are increasing

A common refrain heard from policymakers is that there is no extra money in the budget for roads, or for most any other priority. Michigan’s continued economic growth, however, has in fact resulted in extra cash available to meet the Legislature’s spending priorities.

Legislators were able to find hundreds of millions of extra road funding in the past three years. While the stated preference is to fund the roads with fuel and vehicle registration taxes — those paid largely by people who use the roads — policymakers have supplemented this revenue with money from the state’s general taxes.

This year’s allotment is considered “one-time” funding that Gov. Snyder argues ought not be considered ongoing. Yet the revenue trends from the state keep coming in higher than the year before, so if Lansing chooses to end it, this one-time revenue will be available for other budget items.

And the state revenue is looking strong. General state economic growth is generating more revenue for the state budget. Jobs are up and unemployment is down by nation-leading levels. Personal income continues to increase, as does state economic production.

Income tax revenues are especially looking positive. Collections from the personal income tax increased 9.5 percent from the previous year. While the level of corporate income tax has been tough to estimate, the state expects 17 percent increase in revenue for the current fiscal year compared to two years ago.

All told, Michigan state budgeting of state revenues recently broke $30 billion for the first time.

A number of government cost drivers fell in our recovery as well. There are 76,000 fewer kids in the state’s K-12 schools than there were five years ago. Enrollment in state universities may have peaked as well. Employment in state and local government is down.

With all the positives, however, there remain some negatives. State and local pension systems continue to rack up unfunded liabilities. (To contain this underfunding, the state should enroll new employees only in a defined-contribution retirement system.) The bill for corporate welfare deals made in the past has come due and will continue to cost hundreds of millions. Health care costs keep on increasing, making Medicaid and prison more expensive. And of course, the roads need more work.

The state government should also re-examine its expenditures. The state is still spending millions from the Granholm-era 21st Century Jobs Fund, for example. That’s just one example — there are plenty of other opportunities to trim the spending side of the budget.

Too often policymakers resort to tax increases when they feel there is no other choice. This is not the current situation. The state has options to live within its increasing revenues and to control its expenditures.


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Forfeiture: What Next?

Take a look at bonding

There has been abundant interest in the topic of civil forfeiture in Michigan recently. The Mackinac Center first published a study on this issue in the late 1990s, but we have highlighted the problems with this policy more in recent years.

Last year, Michigan Capitol Confidential broke several stories about state residents who had their property seized for over a year before being charged with a crime. The news service also highlighted stories about people losing their property without law enforcement ever pursuing charges. This year, we talked to legislators, hosted events, debated, teamed up with allies, pointed out polling and published a new study.

The Michigan Legislature listened and overwhelmingly passed some reforms to the current civil forfeiture system in Michigan, requiring transparency and raising the standard of evidence the state must meet before taking possession of property suspected to be connected to illegal activity. These steps were modest, but in a state that had among the worst-rated forfeiture laws in the nation, they are a significant move in the right direction.

So what next? Another important issue is bonding requirements.

When the police seize someone’s property or cash, it is held by the government. Depending on the crime that property is alleged to be involved with, a person has 20 or 28 days to file a claim to get it back. If they don’t do so, the assets are automatically forfeited to the government. But even if they do challenge it, they have to pay 10 percent of the value of the property (at least $250 and no more than $5,000) to the local unit of government.

In Michigan, there are numerous examples of innocent people, never charged with a crime, who had to pay significant sums of money to get their property back. In some of these cases, the police did not even have a solid suspicion that the property was involved in illegal activity, but still these people were forced to pay a fee to get it back. Why should you have to pay a ransom to get your own property back when you haven’t even been charged with a crime?

One bill that would be very beneficial is House Bill 4629 sponsored by Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township. The bill would repeal this bonding requirement.

Bonding itself is not necessarily a bad policy; it is a long-standing practice in the criminal justice system. A way to completely avoid the problems associated with this policy when it comes to civil forfeiture would be for the state to eliminate civil forfeiture altogether and allow the government to confiscate property only through criminal courts, where it must try individuals.


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