Skilled Trades Teachers Don’t Need a College Degree

Why doesn’t the principals’ association trust its members?

The Michigan Legislature is considering some bills that would make it easier for skilled trades workers to teach in the state by exempting them from certain mandates. But the association that represents school principals in the state is opposed, despite the opportunity to give their members more flexibility over who they can hire to meet their schools’ needs.

House Bill 5141 and House Bill 5142, which have bipartisan support, would lessen teacher certification requirements. Essentially, someone who has worked as a licensed skilled tradesman would be allowed to teach career and technical education classes. Schools often have difficulty finding people to teach construction trades, mechanical work, computer technology and more.

The Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals “expressed concerns” about the bills. The group testified that a teacher certification is necessary for managing a classroom.

"Just putting a body in a classroom is not going to fix the problem," said Bob Kefgen with the MASSP. According to Gongwer, he “urged the committee to put a sunset in those bills and work on a condensed certification program for some teachers.”

This opposition from MASSP is problematic for several reasons. Dozens of states have reduced licensing requirements for trades and technical educators. And thousands of teachers in Michigan are not required to have a traditional teaching certificate to work — like those who work at private schools or in programs like Teach for America.

And, of course, schools would be allowed to continue to require a teaching degree for career and technical educators if they wish. This legal change would simply allow the option of hiring those with a different type of a qualification. Superintendents and principals are the ones who make those hiring decisions, which means that the association for high school principals is arguing that its own members should not be allowed to have that choice.

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For those worried about the difficulty in filling teaching vacancies, reducing certification mandates and testing is a no-cost way to get more people into the profession. And since the research shows little evidence that certification actually improves a teacher’s ability to teach — especially for teachers in the skilled trades — it’s a good thing legislators are taking a look.

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Kill Auto Insurance Reform, Repeal “Bad Driver Tax,” Ballast Water Rules and More

November 3, 2017 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

House Bill 5013, Adopt auto insurance reforms and price controls: Failed 45 to 63 in the House

To allow vehicle owners to purchase auto insurance policies with personal injury protection (PIP) coverage below the currently mandated unlimited coverage; cap the amount that hospitals, doctors and long-term care providers could charge to treat people injured in crashes; and more. Among other things the bill would require insurance companies to lower rates if these provisions lowered the cost of treating crash victims, which reportedly are much higher in Michigan than any other state.

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Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5040, “Bad driver tax” repeal and amnesty: Passed 103 to 5 in the House

To repeal the “driver responsibility fees” that are assessed for various violations, effective Sept. 30, 2018. The bill would also clear any outstanding liability an individual may have to pay these fees. These very expensive fees were originally adopted in 2003 to increase state revenue collections. The Senate has passed a repeal that only clears liabilities older than six years.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5012, Restrict election recounts when outcome isn't close: Passed 98 to 10 in the House

To make more rigorous the definition of “aggrieved candidate” in the law that authorizes recounts of elections where the vote margin isn't close. The bill reflects court rulings after the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate (reportedly with the assistance of Democratic Party operatives) orchestrated a statewide recount, even though this candidate received less than 2 percent of the Michigan vote.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5095, Adopt Coast Guard ballast water discharge permit standards: Passed 66 to 42 in the House

To adopt the U.S. Coast Guard standards for ballast water discharges from oceangoing vessels. Michigan adopted its own standards in 2006, which was before the Coast Guard finalized theirs in 2012. The standards are intended to combat the threat of invasive species.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4166, Repeal a school hiring preference mandate: Passed 25 to 9 in the Senate

To repeal a law that requires Intermediate School District special education programs to give preference in hiring to individuals who worked for a regular school district's special education program, or one run by a state agency, but were laid off because it was discontinued.

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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“Law and sausage,” German aristocrat Otto von Bismarck was reputed to say, “are two things you do not want to see being made.” Today’s sausage making in Washington, D.C., involves the final release of tax reform specifics that — if adopted — will mark the most comprehensive federal tax reform legislation since 1986.

The proposed legislation would reduce the number of federal income tax brackets from seven tax brackets to four.

There was originally talk about reducing the number of brackets to just three, flattening and reducing the tax code and its related burden even further. That did not pan out. The highest rate, currently 39.6 percent, would remain in effect with the plan introduced today, but the income level at which it would kick in would be raised.

The other new rates would be 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent, depending on a taxpayer’s income level. The current 10 percent rate goes to zero while the current 15 percent bracket gets rolled back to 12 percent.

The plan would nearly double the standard deduction to $12,000 for singles and $24,000 for families while eliminating the personal exemption.

Most people may see more relief from this change than changes in the tax rates. They would also find completing their tax forms an easier task. Taking the standard deduction makes itemizing a moot point and the net effect may be a lower tax bite and less paperwork. According to Americans for Tax Reform and the Internal Revenue Service, 3.4 million Michigan citizens took the standard deduction on their 2015 taxes.

The National Taxpayers Union estimates that Americans spend 1.9 billion hours on just their 1040 tax forms in 2016, with individual and corporate tax compliance costs running to some $234 billion. By eliminating the need to itemize deductions, the plan would free up millions if not hundreds of millions of hours annually for more productive, not to mention more enjoyable, uses.

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The corporate rate at which income is taxed would drop from 35 percent to 20 percent.

The United States operates the highest corporate tax rate among the 35 wealthy industrialized nations that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation. Dropping the rate should help American companies compete better globally and — as a bonus — see them return some of their international profits to the United States for reinvestment.

The deductibility of state and local taxes sales and income taxes would be repealed.

This simplifies the code but it does something more important. It ends special and beneficial tax treatment to states which choose to tax themselves highly. Currently nearly 30 percent of the value of this deduction accrues to just two states — New York and California.

There are costs and benefits to adopting this plan and it will surely undergo a fiery debate, complete with lots of class warfare rhetoric. There is no reason to retain the highest personal income tax rate of 39.6 percent. The new plan should have at most three rates, not four. There are other problems with the plan, too, but on balance, there are very sound reasons for the United States Congress to adopt these reforms or even better versions of them.

The money Washington takes from us doesn’t belong to some unprotected class of government employees, it belongs to those who earn it in the first place. This proposal will allow more people to keep more of what they make. It makes the lives of taxpayers simpler at the personal and corporate level and dramatically reduces the overall cost — in time and treasure — of pleasing our federal tax collectors. It should also ignite vital economic growth in the country.

Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform said today that “This is an amazingly pro-growth set of policies. Where we were told you could never see 3 percent growth again by the people who brought us 2 percent growth over the last 8 years — we are already at 3 percent — this take us up to 4 percent. This is a very strong, pro-growth, job-creating package.” Grover’s right to be optimistic and American taxpayers should be too.

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How to Encourage Local Internet Development

Cities should encourage broadband without owning it

A bill that would ban local governments in Michigan from subsidizing local internet service providers was introduced and then pulled back recently. It provides a good opportunity to discuss what cities can and should do to encourage broadband for their residents.

House Bill 5099 is sponsored by Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, who is the chair of the House Communications and Technology Committee. The bill was a flat-out ban on government spending for ISPs, though locals could team up with the private sector to provide internet service. The bill has been killed at the behest of activists and some in the local business community.

Because of the myriad problems stemming from cities trying their hand at the ISP game, including the outstanding debt they’ve accrued in the process, some version of this bill should be considered. Until local governments have solved their current fiscal problems and removed obstacles for all potential private internet providers, they should not consider going further into debt to do something the private sector already does without taxpayer funding.

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Economist Lawrence Summers, the former U.S. treasury secretary and one-time advisor to President Barack Obama, wrote last year that “expanding broadband internet networks” is “clearly the responsibility of the private sector.” He added that “policy frameworks that streamline regulatory decision-making and reduce uncertainty could help spur investment in [this sector.]”

Local government should not use taxpayer dollars to build, own or operate internet service providers. It may make sense for locals to enter into agreements or leases with private parties or provide a voucher for citizens to purchase such services. Similar laws allow this to happen in parts of Europe and the more than 20 states in the U.S. that restrict government-owned networks.

The Michigan House is considering several bills that would reduce regulations at the local level to lower the cost of internet access. Those bills are worth pursuing as they would encourage more competition and efficient services.

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Michigan Local Government Revenues Strong Despite Complaints

Local Governments Are Not in Debt Because of Less Revenue Sharing

It's time to address unfunded liabilities

The largest problem facing local governments is the amount of debt they have for workers in retirement. The debt comes in two forms: pension liabilities and government-funded medical insurance. The political debate is how to solve the debt problem.

Local governments can stop racking up pension debt by shifting their employees to 401(k) retirement plans as soon as possible. Doing so would stop them from passing along the costs for their current workers onto tomorrow’s taxpayers. Oakland County, and many other municipalities, have gone this route and are more solvent and able to pay for other government services because of it.

Paying retired employees’ health insurance is a looming problem. According to a recent analysis from the state Treasury Department, 175 out of the 367 public entities offering retiree health care have not set aside any money to pay for it. If government managers are not careful, the costs for both pensions and retiree health insurance can crowd out the resources they can devote to current services.

Legislators recently took testimony about this issue. While everyone agrees that it is a problem, some politicians and union officials are blaming it on the state for being stingy in its payments to local governments. Gongwer News Service recently covered a hearing in the House Local Government Committee, where Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, put the blame mostly on the state.

Port Huron City Manager James Freed testified about his city’s problems with spiking liabilities. When asked about revenue sharing, he said it doesn’t explain much of the problem. However, he said, “It has had a significant impact.”

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Contrary to assertions from legislators and unions, the evidence shows that state revenue sharing has little to do with the financial problems in Port Huron.

Revenue sharing was near its peak in Port Huron in 2003 when the city received $7.2 million from the state. This year, the city receives $3.4 million in revenue sharing. If the state had increased revenue sharing since 2003 in an amount that would cover inflation — and ignoring city’s population loss — it would give Port Huron $9.4 million today. That’s a difference of $6 million, which city officials would like to have.

But Port Huron’s debt skyrocketed much more than that. In 2003, the city had $8.7 million in pension debt. (It was not required to report retiree health care liabilities until 2009). Today, the city has $72.6 million in pension debt and another $37 million of debt for retiree health care.

In other words, the city has gained more than $100 million in debt since the high point of revenue sharing. So that “missing” $6 million in revenue sharing would take care of a very small part of the problem. (The city of Lansing provides a similar lesson.)

Local governments would always like to have more money from the state. But that’s not the real problem. The problem is that municipalities have made promises they are pushing off onto future taxpayers. These problems are self-inflicted and, because there is no right to retiree health care, local managers already have the tools necessary to fix them.

The state can help local governments, taxpayers and city workers in one way that doesn’t require any extra revenue sharing: Require local governments to pay what they promise. Legislators should require salary freezes at the local level until pension and retiree health insurance is fully funded. That’s the best way to ensure benefits for public workers are protected.

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City Claims It Will Cut Almost Everything Without a ‘Needed’ Tax Hike

But Fraser has a spending problem it should address first

Editor’s note: The proposed tax hike was failed at the Nov. 7 election.

The city of Fraser asked citizens for a tax hike in 2016 but the measure failed. Apparently undeterred by the outcome, Fraser officials increased taxes anyway with a new budget and are asking voters again for a hike. But the city has a spending problem it should look at first.

According to the city website, it has a nearly $2 million deficit but failed to pass “a needed tax increase of 5 mils [sic].” (The city may be violating state campaign finance laws by using public resources to directly advocate for a tax increase.) The city’s plan, according to the Macomb Daily, is “to use a combination of higher property taxes, dipping into the fund balance and delaying capital improvements to plug a $1.9 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.”

But the council is limited in how much it can hike taxes without a supermajority of the council, so it is going to voters to try to get more revenue on Nov. 7. Describing the issue on its website, the city warns residents that there will be necessary cuts to popular city services like public safety, parks and recreation, senior services and the library if voters do not approve a tax increase.

The city claims the problem is a lack of tax dollars rather than too much spending. Again, from the Macomb Daily:

City Manager D. Wayne O’Neal said Fraser is encountering similar circumstances many Michigan communities face as they continue to claw their way out of a deep hole created by huge revenue losses during the Great Recession. He anticipates further tax increases in the years to come to address legacy costs as well to keep City Hall operating.

“We don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem,” he said.

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The numbers show otherwise. According to Fraser’s financial statements, it spent $15.9 million in 2006, which increased to $21.4 million in 2016. Even adjusted for inflation, that’s a 13 percent increase in spending at a time when city’s population growth has remained flat.

So where’s the city’s money going? Much of the increase is going toward retiree debt. Fraser has an open pension system that costs more than ever and carries more than $26 million in debt — and is assuming a high rate of return on its pension investment fund. Retiree health care costs have also skyrocketed. The city has set aside less than 1 percent of what it owes to former workers and paying for those benefits would cost more than $4,600 per resident.

No doubt Fraser has financial problems. The city government is racking up more debt every year and now wants taxpayers to bail it out. But city officials should first look to contain their spending before digging deeper into taxpayers’ pockets.

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New Analysis: Auto Insurance Costs Out of Control

Costs on the rise, will get worse if nothing is done

The average cost of treating an auto accident injury in Michigan tripled over the last decade and is now more than five times the cost in the next most-expensive state. Despite this, insurance companies have, on average, lost money selling auto insurance over the same period. Those are two of the findings from a recent deep dive conducted by Crain’s Detroit Business and Bridge Magazine.

Crain’s and Bridge recently teamed up to do some fantastic research on the hottest topic in Lansing: auto insurance reform. The results strongly support the case for changing the way auto insurance works in this state.

The most obvious and immediate take-away from looking at the data is that there is a very real problem with Michigan’s auto insurance laws. And, if the status quo remains, things are likely to get worse.

For example, according to Crain’s and Bridge’s analysis of data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the average cost for treating automobile injuries in Michigan tripled from 2000 to 2013, growing 90 percent faster than total health care inflation. And this was during a period when the number of motorists injured in accidents actually decreased. The average cost to treat an injury from an auto accident in Michigan is now north of $75,000, more than five times the next highest state, New Jersey.

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This is not hyperbole: Medical costs for treatment from car accident injuries are out of control. The primary reasons for this are that medical providers can essentially charge whatever price they think they can get away with and there’s no limit to the amount of benefits an individual can receive. Plus, a 2010 Michigan Supreme Court ruling made it easier for people injured in accidents to sue and win even more benefits.

This is why the cost controls proposed in House Bill 5013, sponsored by Rep. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, are necessary. Since the state requires all drivers to purchase expensive personal injury protection, it should impose a fee schedule on what medical providers can charge insurers for services and procedures. Similar types of fee schedules are used for Michigan’s workers’ compensation program and government-run insurance programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare. The bill would also allow drivers to choose a policy that limits their total benefits, resulting in a reduced-priced premium.

Opponents to this type of reform often claim that efforts to change the system are simply attempts to further enrich profitable and powerful insurance companies. The Crain’s and Bridge research shows, however, that insurance companies in Michigan are not raking in the dough. In fact, they’ve paid out more in medical benefits, or to use the industry term, “losses,” than they’ve received in revenue through premiums paid by Michigan drivers. This has been the case for the past several years now. Not surprisingly, then, from 2005 to 2014, the average profits for companies selling auto insurance were -2.9 percent, according to Crain’s and Bridge.

Even though the record shows that Michigan drivers aren’t lavishing large profits on insurers, their premiums have consistently ranked at or near the top in the nation. The new data obtained by Crain’s and Bridge provides even more detail on how Michigan compares to states that use similar no-fault insurance systems.

From 2004 to 2013, total spending on medical care for people injured in auto accidents in Michigan increased by 78 percent. In New Jersey, however, spending fell by 29 percent, even though the Garden State has close to the same number of drivers as Michigan. Total spending on medical care caused by auto accidents increased by 17 percent in New York and 14 percent in Florida. Those increases are significantly less than what Michigan has seen, despite the fact that these states have one-and-a-half to two times as many drivers as Michigan.

Regulating insurance markets is a complicated business, but the latest data unearthed by Crain’s and Bridge Magazine supports a simple conclusion: Michigan’s auto insurance laws are failing and need to be substantially reformed.

To learn more about this issue, visit

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When Firefighters Aren’t Allowed to Fight Fires

Licensing rules prevent ex-convicts from contributing productively to society

In California and a few other states, some prisoners are trained as firefighters and deployed to help handle emergency situations, such as the recent wildfires in the Golden State. These prisoners learn how to operate the firetrucks and equipment and receive training in EMT services. Firefighting is a dangerous job, and sometimes the prisoners are killed in the line of duty, as was the case of 22-year-old Shawna Lynn Jones.

The Economist reports that Jones, like many of the firefighting prisoners, wanted to learn a skill, improve her life and find a job in public safety when she got out of prison. But California, like most states, restricts people who have a criminal record from getting a firefighter’s license. In other words, California is training people for jobs while they are in prison, using taxpayer dollars, and then preventing them from doing those jobs once they are released.

The state of Michigan doesn’t license firefighters (nor should it), but, similar to California, it does train prisoners for all sorts of jobs they cannot legally perform upon their release. That’s because licensing requirements stand in their way. More than 70 percent of the hundreds of occupations the state licenses have “good moral character” provisions which are used to deny licenses to ex-offenders. Many other rules automatically deny licenses to anyone with a felony record. The affected jobs include police officers, prison workers, teachers, nurses, dentists, and many health care workers.

This is a huge problem. Some workers certainly should be denied a license — such as those whose crime is directly related to the occupation they want to be licensed for. But broad restrictions like those in Michigan’s law do little to protect the public and, in fact, likely lead to higher crime rates and more prisoners.

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As an article in The Economist noted, citing my work:

Such requirements are correlated with a higher rate of reoffending, says Jarrett Skorup at the Mackinac Centre for Public Policy in Michigan. Around 4m Michiganders have a criminal record, which makes it difficult or impossible for them to find work in the 150 professions that ban convicted felons. A recent study by Stephen Slivinski of Arizona State University found that between 1997 and 2007, states with the heaviest burdens of occupational licensing saw an average increase in reoffending within three years of release of over 9%. The states with the lightest burdens saw a decrease of 2.5% over the same period.

Michigan has done some good work reforming its licensing laws, but legislators need to tackle them head-on in a more comprehensive way. To learn more about this issue, visit

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Why We Might Not Want to Require Rescue

Proposal to reverse no-duty-to-rescue law needs a deeper examination

A new bill under consideration in the Michigan Legislature would require people to help rescue others who are in danger. But it is unlikely to have a positive effect and may even do more harm than good.

Michigan House Democratic Leader Sam Singh recently introduced House Bill 5077, which would make it a crime for an individual to decline to rescue someone in danger if doing so wouldn’t also endanger the rescuer.

Current law does not require a bystander to rescue someone in a dangerous situation that the bystander did not create. This doctrine may seem immoral and it has been frequently and widely maligned by legal academics. Nevertheless, the rule has always been a feature of American law, and it is worth considering the potential consequences of changing it.

American civil law imposes a duty of reasonable care on anyone undertaking an activity that could potentially harm someone else, from a commuter driving a car to a doctor performing brain surgery to a landlord renting an apartment. But it does not obligate an individual to rescue an endangered person from a situation that the individual did not create. Helping such a person may be the moral thing to do, but the law does not require it – with good reason, according to law professor Marin Roger Scordato. His article in the Tulane Law Review illustrates the impracticality of imposing a duty to rescue.

Scordato notes that most people immediately act to help others in danger, so criminalizing the failure to rescue would have little impact on what is already a strong social expectation. The goal of legislation like Singh’s bill is to coerce people to render aid who otherwise wouldn’t – the “reluctant rescuers.” Scordato gives several reasons why we don’t necessarily want to coerce reluctant rescuers, two of which are worth discussing here.

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First, the threat of prosecution is unlikely to motivate the person who would refuse to rescue another out of the goodness of his heart. Legislators try to reduce violent crimes by imposing severe consequences for committing them, but it seems that the best deterrent for criminals might be a very high probability of getting caught. Identifying a criminal is hard if not impossible when it comes to proving a failure to rescue. Who would ever know if a driver witnessing an accident failed to dial 911, for instance? Of course, a bystander might be able to identify a reluctant rescuer, raising the odds that the reluctant rescuer would act when others are present. But this merely means that the duty to rescue would, according to Scordato, “produce a greater number of additional rescue efforts in just those circumstances in which additional coerced rescue efforts are least needed.”

Moreover, there is always the risk that a rescue effort may do more harm than good. A law creating a duty to rescue would aggravate this risk by requiring even ill-equipped or untrained individuals to involve themselves in medically complicated or flustering scenarios. The presence of a reluctant rescuer doing the bare minimum to avoid legal liability may discourage other, more altruistic or skilled rescuers from helping. The sense of duty and an inclination to rescue may be diminished when another effort is already underway. The result may then be that the victim is worse off than if the reluctant rescuer had passed on by, leaving the altruistic one to help. A coerced rescue effort might even harm or kill the rescuer, too. So although Singh’s proposal is well-intentioned, it may merely increase the quantity — not the quality — of rescue efforts, to the potential detriment of many.

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Tipping the Scales on Solar

Mackinac Center signs open letter on trade restrictions

Suniva, a solar cell manufacturing company received millions of dollars in federal, state and local grants and tax credits is now asking the Trump administration for steep tariffs on imported solar cells.

Michigan, among other states, granted extensive subsidies and tax breaks to the firm. How much it actually collected from state taxpayers is not known because state administrators do not disclose that information.

The import tariffs the company is now requesting are opposed by a U.S. trade association that represents solar energy system installers, solar farm developers and related interests.

The Mackinac Center for Public has joined the National Taxpayer Union in sending an open letter to the Trump administration requesting that it deny the request for protective tariffs.

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