The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

Disdain for Politics Gov. Snyder's Undoing?

An analysis of the gubernatorial race

It is time to reassess Michigan’s gubernatorial race; and flipping a coin might be the best approach to picking the winner. Polls show Gov. Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger former Congressman Mark Schauer neck and neck with Gov. Snyder’s momentum heading downward.

Maybe Gov. Snyder – said by some to be the smartest man in the room – knows precisely what he’s doing. Maybe his advisers have spotted something encouraging in the polling numbers others have missed, but the governor has slipped into a dead heat after being the favorite to win re-election only a few weeks ago.

Gov. Snyder’s problems appear to be multiplying and to a large extent self-inflicted. He has always displayed contempt for letting political expediency impact his decisions. Now, after repeatedly ignoring time-tested political considerations, his re-election is in jeopardy.

When asked if leaders should allow political factors to influence policy, most voters would reply with a resounding “no.” But in reality their assessment of leaders who pay no attention to politics depends on whether they agree or disagree with the result. If they disagree with the policy decision, they’ll usually argue that the leader has defied the will of the voters, or at least an important segment of voters. In other words, voters often want and expect their leaders to consider the political ramifications of their actions.

Upon taking office Gov. Snyder claimed he wanted to change the culture in Lansing. At first, it looked like he was setting about doing so. As time passed, however, his decisions increasingly reflected the very culture he had said needed to be changed. This alone probably wouldn’t have threatened his re-election. But his neglect of the counterweight that traditionally keeps that culture in check just might.

The culture of Lansing is a deeply imbedded government-centric perspective pervading the 10-block radius of the Capitol. From this perspective, the well-being of government and the special interests attached to government is the overriding priority. One element alone mitigates and disciplines this government-centered culture, and that is a healthy fear of voters’ reactions. Leaders must balance the political impact of their decisions along with other considerations; repeatedly failing to do so shuts the voters out of the process. Gov. Snyder may have crossed this line once or twice too often.

During his first year in office, Gov. Snyder rearranged Michigan’s tax and revenue structure. This included the elimination of the tax exemption for pensions – or as it was called “the pension tax.” When the change occurred, many assumed Gov. Snyder would eventually follow up with some kind of general tax cut to remedy any negative long-term political impact. He never did this and is suffering the consequences.

Polling now shows the “pension tax” cutting into his support among senior citizens, a large number of which were not affected by the change, but mistakenly believe they were.

In 2013, Gov. Snyder wanted Medicaid expansion. Polls showed that a majority of Republican voters opposed it. His message could have been that President Barack Obama left him with two bad choices and he’d decided Medicaid expansion was the lesser evil of the two.

Rather than adopting this message, the one chosen was a virtual mirror image of the president’s Obamacare rhetoric. Use of this message was like rubbing salt in the wounds of the political right; unnecessarily intensifying bitterness over the issue.

In June, Gov. Snyder sought to double the state’s fuel tax to create a new revenue stream for fixing and maintaining the roads. The impetus for this came from a coalition of nearly every special interest group in Lansing. Most of these groups had just had their individual priorities taken care of with passage of a $52 billion budget.

Common political sense would advise against attempting to double the fuel tax six months prior to a general election. Taking at least some of the sought-after funds from the budget first might have been politically advisable as well. But the culture in Lansing said: “damn the torpedoes, we want it all now.” Apparently throwing political considerations to the wind, the governor pursued the doomed effort. In the end, all that was accomplished was a magnification of his inability to find a more politically acceptable approach.

In the spring of this election year a group of large businesses and business groups joined in urging the Legislature to expand Michigan’s anti-discrimination Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation. To many social conservatives, that is a step toward recognition of gay marriage. With friends like these business interests, Gov. Snyder has no need of enemies.

Reluctantly drawn into the debate, he lent his support to adding sexual orientation to the law, risking alienation of an important voting block he might otherwise have counted on. Suggesting the possible change to the Act be placed on the ballot and decided by the voters would have been a politically safer position for him to have taken.

Recent polling shows Gov. Snyder’s support among Republicans has slipped to just 82 percent. Meanwhile, Schauer is undoubtedly beginning to convince potential financial supporters that his gubernatorial bid is worth backing.

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

News Coverage of MEA's Illegal 'August Window'

National, international media cite Center expert

More than 200 media outlets nationwide and in other countries are reporting that the Michigan Education Association’s so-called ‘August window’ that limited when members could resign from the union to the month of August has been found illegal according to a labor law judge.

The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, The Washington Post, the San Antonio News-Express, the San Francisco Chronicle,, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the San Diego Union-Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the U.K. Daily Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press, the Las Vegas Sun, the Miami Herald,, CBS Detroit, ABC News, MLive, Huffington Post, and Education Week are among the largest news outlets to carry the story.

Patrick Wright, vice president for legal affairs, also discussed the ruling on "The Frank Beckmann Show" on WJR AM760, on "Capital City Recap" with host Michael Cohen on WILS AM-1320 in Lansing and on WNEM TV-5 in Saginaw.   

Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio discussed the matter with WILX TV-10 in Lansing and Michigan Radio.

Michigan Education Digest

Charter oversight, Saginaw pay cut

The newest edition of Michigan Education Digest is now available online. Topics include charter public school oversight, enrollment declines and Saginaw teachers’ pay cut.

Officials Caved to Red Wings on Corporate Welfare

Team should have paid for new arena on its own

Christopher Douglas, an associate professor of economics at the University of Michigan-Flint and a member of the Mackinac Center’s Board of Scholars, writes in Crain’s Detroit Business that the Detroit City Council and state Legislature should have caved to corporate welfare demands made by the Detroit Red Wings for the team’s new arena.

He also wrote about that topic here.

Media Continues Reporting on Teacher Opt Outs

Ten percent of those who could left the MEA last year

The Detroit News, WWMT-TV3 in Kalamazoo and Michigan Radio have all reported recently about teachers seeking to leave the Michigan Education Association under the state’s right-to-work law.

More information can be found at

More Teachers Than Ever Now Know Opt-Out Rights

Courageous teachers stood up to MEA bullying

Some of the most courageous people I know are teachers.

Their job requires them to face students, parents, administrators, colleagues and the general public constantly. Their performance receives criticism regularly.

For the past year, we at the Mackinac Center have had the privilege of getting to know some of the bravest teachers in Michigan. They stand for principles rather than power. The organization that is supposed to represent them has chosen not to inform them of their rights.

These teachers faced the Michigan Education Association trying to ruin their credit; they faced name-calling from their peers and even from the president of the MEA, but they stood firm in their strongly held conviction that no one should be fired if they choose not to support a union.

While the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation provided legal support, these teachers stood up when they did not know what the result would be.

For two teachers, the MEA finally recognized their rights to leave despite missing the union’s so-called “August window” that they and many of their colleagues had never heard of before. An MEA official testified under oath that as many as 8,000 members had stopped paying dues.

These individuals blazed a trail for other teachers to learn about the MEA’s formerly non-publicized policy of members being allowed to leave only in the month of August.

Being silent on the matter is one thing, but actively putting up roadblocks to keep members from leaving is quite intentional and wrong.

We’ve seen where the MEA sent a misleading “Nonmember Informed Consent Form” to members who wanted information to get out of the union. The recipient is expected to initial the form 25 times, and even after that, may not have properly opted out of the union.

We’ve seen where locals have made false claims, telling members they would miss out on a benefit if they were no longer financially supporting the union.

Despite having to fight an uphill battle, many MEA members now know the process of opting out of the union due to One of the members told us, “I was pleasantly surprised that dozens of my colleagues had already opted out just as I have earlier this month.”

I left out the name of the now former member because I respect their privacy. However, there have been instances where local unions have tried to shame non-members by making their decision to leave the union public.

Last year, roughly 15,000 MEA members were eligible to stop financially supporting the MEA. About 10 percent did (1,500). This year, 60,000 members are eligible to exercise their rights. The number of members who choose to opt out is not as important as the number of members who now know they have a choice whether to continue to financially support a union. That number is much higher than it was last year.

The Story of a True Hero Spreads

Sir Nicholas Winton Feted by Holocaust Memorial Center

Last night I shook hands with the son of one of my favorite heroes. The Holocaust Memorial Center in metro Detroit hosted Nick Winton, who gave a most inspiring presentation on the life of his father, Sir Nicholas Winton.

Sir Nicholas, who prefers to be called Nicky, was a 29-year-old London stockbroker who gave up a skiing holiday to visit Prague and witness firsthand the refugees who were fleeing Nazi tyranny. That visit led to his heroic deeds which enabled 669 children to escape.

Parents, desperate to save their children, sought his assistance and he established an organization to aid them. He worked for weeks to find homes for them and also to arrange safe passage to Britain. For years no one knew of Nicky’s efforts for these many children. An episode of the BBC television program “That’s Life!” aired in 1988 and many of the children met for the first time this humble, beautiful man who had saved their lives. A clip from that program was shown to the captivated audience last night as the son explained the profound effect on him to see his father wipe away tears when he met with his “other” children.

The trains left Prague and saved 669 souls, until Sept. 1, 1939, when the largest group of 250 children was scheduled to leave. Of course, on that day Hitler invaded Poland and the war had begun. Most of those lives, along with most of the families of the 669, were lost. Because of the determined effort of Nicky Winton and those who assisted him there were 669 saved. These “children” and their descendants number in the thousands and they have made their mark on the world in many different walks of life. The beautiful part of this story is that many have befriended Nicky and his family.      

Honored guests at the Holocaust Memorial Center were several of the children saved in the Kindertransport efforts. Certainly many of the other guests were children of children saved. How thrilling it must have been for them to hear this story related.

It was thrilling for my daughter and me as well. We have been privileged and humbled to have met Sir Nicholas. He lives in Maidenhead (25 miles from London) and is now a spry 105 years of age. We have been guests in his home and have lunched with him at his favorite Maidenhead pub. When you leave his presence you feel you have left a true hero. He says he is NOT a hero but only a man who did what needed to be done. His motto, “If it’s not impossible then there must be a way to do it” served him and the 669 children he saved well.

The Mackinac Center first learned of Nicky when then-President Lawrence W. Reed met and interviewed him. For more of this remarkable story please read “The Difference One Can Make.”

The documentary, “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good,” tells more of this incredible man and more recently, “Nicky’s Family” was recently released. Both are produced by writer-director Matej Minac and are narrated by Joe Schlesinger of CBC fame. He, too, has a personal view of Nicky and his goodness. Yes, he was one of the saved children. Nick Winton mentioned that he visited Joe in Toronto as he made his way to the Holocaust Memorial Center for his presentation.

A new book written by Nicky’s daughter, Barbara Winton, “If It’s Not Impossible…..The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton,” tells more of the remarkable story.

The Holocaust Memorial Center plays an important role in educating the public on the horrors of tyranny, but also on the ways people held themselves accountable and assisted those in need. School groups from all over Michigan are hosted each year so the children of this new generation become aware of the history of the Holocaust. I offer a sincere thank you to the Memorial Center for an inspiring evening and to Nick Winton who represents his father, and his story, so very well.

A Uniquely Overqualified Candidate

LaFaive's satirical cover letter for MEDC job

(Editor’s note: The following cover letter is tongue-in-cheek satire, written after spotting a legitimate job offer online for another Michigan Economic Development Corp. vice president.)

August 28, 2014

Ms. Valerie Hoag
Senior Vice President
Business Development
Michigan Economic Development Corp.
300 N. Washington Square 
Lansing, Michigan 48913

Dear Ms. Hoag:

I read with interest your advertisement for a job paying up to $159,000 for individuals with as little as five years of work experience in public relations, marketing, international studies, business administration or economic development.

As you may know from my published work on corporate welfare, I possess a graduate degree in economics and 19 years of experience in the economic development and larger fiscal policy fields. I have also co-authored two exhaustive studies on economic development.

The first study focused on the efficacy — or lack thereof — of the now defunct Michigan Economic Growth Authority, which was run by the MEDC. We found that for every $123,000 in tax credits offered to the companies declared “winners” by MEDC jobs wizards, only one construction job was created and 100 percent of those jobs disappeared within two years. The second MEGA study, which included a broader analysis of the MEDC itself, found an empirical link between the MEGA program and jobs, but it was negative. That is, it found the MEGA program might destroy manufacturing jobs on net balance.

The good news is that this ineffectual program was mercifully put down. The bad news is that all the other programs run by the MEDC for the purpose of creating jobs probably create little more than job announcements. Maybe that is why the job description published online emphasizes an educational background in public relations and marketing.

I must confess I am delighted by the generosity of the MEDC’s pay. A salary range of between $106,000 and almost $160,000 for so little education and experience is simply remarkable. The good times must really be rolling for government bureaucrats these days.

If I may be so bold, I’d like to offer some advice that may separate me from other candidates. The MEDC should make all applicants for this position — including myself — submit their own investment portfolios to you as evidence that they can perform better than the market as a whole. In fact, every person involved in approving corporate welfare should be required to do so.

Displaying the investment track records of government jobs czars will give Michiganders confidence that their tax dollars are being invested wisely, by people with Warren Buffet-like track records, and not just political appointees and civil servants with little real-world experience in building a legitimate business.

I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to apply for this position at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. There are perhaps few other places in America where I can feel both overqualified and overpaid at the same time. 


Michael LaFaive
Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative

P.S.: Do you really want more economic development? Kill the MEDC outright and spend the $300 million-plus in annual savings on better roads, or just let all businesses and people keep more of what they earn. 

Right-to-Work, Tax Rates Paint Interesting Picture

Worker freedom, low taxes draw people

Scholars with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, as well as other institutions, have used descriptive statistics in conjunction with empirical evidence to tell stories — sometimes profound ones. A good example of this was published recently by “Opportunity Ohio” and should be explored further.

One of my favorite uses of descriptive statistics numbers involves right-to-work laws and American migration. For many reasons, Americans pick up and move. Often such moves involve economic motivations. A great policy question is why so many Americans have moved from non-right-to-work states to ones with such legal protections. Is it just a coincidence or is there some type of clear link?

The evidence seems to be clear: a right-to-work law makes that state more economically attractive and tends to draw in-migrants.

Of the nine states with the greatest population growth from 2000 to 2009, six were right-to-work states and a seventh (Colorado) possessed a quasi-RTW law with its “Labor Peace Act.”

Economist Richard Vedder, a member of the Center’s Board of Scholars, examined population changes and other possible explanations including climate, taxes, population and other variables and found “without exception, in all the estimations, a statistically significant positive relationship … was observed between the presence of right-to-work laws and net migration.”

Opportunity Ohio, a Buckeye-based nonprofit group, released a chart titled “Two Winning Policies for Job Growth” in which it detailed states that maintain “winning policies” for job growth such as low personal income tax rates and right-to-work laws, as measured by employment. It found, for instance:

  • Seven of the 15 highest growth states since 1990 had no income tax;
  • Six others maintained rates below the national average, which was 5.6 percent;
  • Right-to-work states outperform forced unionization states. Nine of top 12 performers are also right-to-work states.

It specifically noted that “right-to-work states perform well even with higher income taxes.”

The Mackinac Center’s own empirical research confirms that the presence of a right-to-work law is a powerful economic development tool. We found that between 1970 and 2011, right-to-work status meant an average employment growth rate 0.8 percentage points higher than the rate would otherwise be. So, if a state would have had a 2.0 percent growth rate, right-to-work status made it 2.8 percentage points; a huge 40 percent difference.

The Opportunity Ohio people who put this graphic together believe that combining these two policies — low personal income tax rates and status as a right-to-work state — can be particularly effective for creating employment.

It is an idea worth exploring. 

MEDC Approves Corporate Welfare for Dealership

LaFaive: Special favors unfair to competitors, taxpayers

Michigan Strategic Fund board members voted Tuesday to divert almost three-quarters of a million dollars in local and school taxes to a private entity so that a Redford Township car dealership can upgrade its facilities, MLive reports. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. will give the dealership $719,528 to renovate its building and install a car wash on an adjacent piece of land it owns.

Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative, said this type of special treatment is unfair.

“It’s unfair because this dealer no doubt competes with other dealers not lucky enough to get a government handout,” he told MLive. “Robbing many taxpayer Peters to subsidize the corporate Paul only shifts precious resources around. Evidence shows it is unlikely to create net new jobs. Worse, this is money that could have accrued to local schools. Depriving them of such revenues represents a very high opportunity cost, unless of course some future graduates intend to wash cars on the new site.”