Studies

101 Recommendations to Revitalize Michigan

(Editor's note: These recommendations were originally posted in January 2009. They were updated in January 2011, and a Top 10 list was added. You may view PDFs of the previous versions: the Second Edition, with an introduction by Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman, and the First Edition.)
Michigan is blessed with a wealth of the human and natural resources integral to building vibrant commerce and vigorous communities in the 21st century. At the moment, however, counterproductive public policies have made it harder for our industries to compete nationally and internationally and have reduced our state’s attractiveness to investors and entrepreneurs.
In addition, Michigan is not immune to the gradual erosion of equity and basic human freedom that accompanies a steady growth in the power and scope of government. Related to this, our government’s ability to properly perform many critical functions, including education, has been jeopardized by policymakers’ attempts to do too many things. This lack of focus has even led to confusion among policymakers over whether government exists to serve the people or vice versa.
There’s a lot of work to do to reverse this, but there’s good news. Once growth- and freedom-friendly policies are in place, recovery is likely to occur much more quickly than most people imagine.
For policymakers and voters serious about restoring freedom and economic vitality in the Great Lakes State, the Mackinac Center presents the following 101 recommendations.
This report is a compendium of work authored by Mackinac Center policy analysts and compiled by Senior Legislative Analyst Jack McHugh. The brief recommendations inevitably omit some nuance and detail. These are provided more fully in the online articles cited with each recommendation. … more

School Funding in Michigan: Common Myths

Michigan’s state-run school system is the largest and most expensive government service taxpayers support. It employs more than 350,000 people who work in one of the more than 4,100 different entities. The total amount this system expends each year adds up to more than $20 billion. Given the enormity and complexity of the system, it’s no surprise that a number of myths exist about how public schools are funded. … more

Cigarette Taxes and Smuggling 2010

An Update of Earlier Research

Authors Michael LaFaive and Todd Nesbit update their 2008 cigarette taxes and smuggling study titled “Cigarette Taxes and Smuggling: A Statistical and Historical Review.” The update includes new statistical data to reflect the 27 state-level tax increases that occurred between January 2007 and the end of 2009 in Michigan’s 48 contiguous states. … more

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2010

Privatization of support services has been a method that Michigan school districts have used for several years to lower costs. More than ever before, Michigan school districts are privatizing the three main support services they offer — food, custodial and transportation. Our annual survey finds that 48.8 percent of Michigan school districts are contracting out for these services. This is an 8 percent increase over 2009.

The largest impetus for contracting is cost savings. The survey found that first-year contracts alone are expected to save districts $16.7 million cumulatively. … more

Michigan’s Public-Employee Retirement Benefits: Benchmarking and Managing Benefits and Costs

The state of Michigan manages two major statewide defined-benefit pension plans.* The largest plan provides benefits for public school employees through the Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System, known as “MPSERS.” The second defined-benefit plan is provided through the Michigan State Employees’ Retirement System, which covers employees of state government and is known as “MSERS.” The MSERS defined-benefit plan was closed to state employees hired after March 1997; these employees were enrolled in MSERS’ new defined-contribution plan.*
This paper reviews MPSERS and MSERS pension and retiree medical benefits and confirms many of the published concerns* related to the level of benefits provided and the associated fiscal challenges facing Michigan taxpayers in both the short and long term.
*Citations provided in the study’s main text. … more

Reforming Michigan’s Auto Insurance Industry

Some Concrete and Practical Proposals

Michigan auto insurance premiums are among the highest in the nation. The American Association of Retired Persons, in a recent survey, found that Michigan’s premiums were the second highest in the nation, behind only Louisiana. This, combined with a statutory requirement to purchase insurance, has led to legislative attempts to keep premiums down. Unfortunately, state lawmakers have pursued an approach that includes price controls, regulation of how premiums may be set, and requirements for insurance companies to provide specific types of coverage. As the famous Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises pointed out decades ago, this kind of government intervention, while well-intended, leads to unintended consequences that then lead to further government interventions, further unintended consequences, in a lengthy cycle with results that no legislator would have expected at the beginning.
Rather than attempting to regulate insurance company and individual behavior, Michigan legislators would much better serve the people they represent by examining why insurance premiums are so high in the first place, in order to address the problem at its source. A careful study of Michigan’s insurance market and the regulations governing it indicates that no-fault insurance and the legislative requirement for individuals to purchase unlimited personal injury protection are two important reasons for the increased costs of providing insurance coverage in Michigan. The good news is that it is possible to reduce these costs and reduce the number of drivers who take the risk of violating the law and do not purchase insurance. … more

Chetly Zarko v. Howell Education Association

(now Eric Rothoff v. Howell Education Association)

(Editor's note: This case resulted in a disastrous Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that held that the emails sought under a Freedom of Information Act request were essentially personal records, not public records, and therefore beyond the reach of FOIA. The decision severely weakened the state’s FOIA law and thwarted disclosure of improper activity by public employees. Because the Michigan Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of the decision, the ruling can be corrected now only by the Legislature or by the Michigan Supreme Court in a future case.)
A lower court's interpretation of what constitutes a "public record" under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act would shield criminal and other improper government activities from public scrutiny, according to this "friend of the court" brief jointly submitted to the Michigan Supreme Court by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Michigan Press Association.
Click here to download the PDF of this amicus brief. This news release explains the context of the case.
Following the filing of this brief, the Mackinac Center and MPA have submitted two supplemental briefs to the Court. The first alerted the Court to a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is relevant to this case. The second supplemental brief brings up recent examples of how the Appeals Court’s disastrous ruling has been used by school districts to deny FOIA requests and potentially hide improper activities. Read the news release for more information.
The Mackinac Center's original amicus brief for the Appeals Court hearing of this case, then named Howell Education Association v. Howell Board of Education, is available here… more

Howell Education Association v. Howell Board of Education

Just what constitutes a public record? Are documents created by a public official on a public computer system “public records” under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act? In this "friend of the court" brief, Mackinac Senior Legal Analyst Patrick J. Wright argues the answer is “yes” and warns that a failure to readily disclose such documents would seriously undermine FOIA's value. … more

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2009

With Michigan’s public school districts facing a decline in per-pupil funding, more districts are contracting out for at least one of the three major school support services — food, custodial and transportation — than ever before. This year’s survey of school districts found that 44.6 percent of all Michigan school districts contract out for at least one of these services, a 5.6 percent increase over 2008. This year, new contracts alone are expected to save $6.9 million. … more

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation: A Review and Analysis

Video by Kathy Hoesktra, Mackinac Center communications specialist … more

Leveling the Playing Field

What Michigan Public School Academy Leaders Need to Know About Union Organizing

A guide to labor law for charter school staff. This 105-page book explains how Michigan's labor law works and in particular how and why unions are formed. The book also gives advice on how charter schools can maintain good relations between teachers and administrators. … more

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2008

Privatization of school support services is a time-tested means for lowering educational costs. The three major services that school districts in Michigan contract out for are food, custodial and transportation. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy's survey of privatization is the longest running and most comprehensive source of school support service data in the nation. … more

Cigarette Taxes and Smuggling

A Statistical Analysis and Historical Review

In this study, the authors consider cigarette smuggling from two angles. First, they employ a statistical model to estimate the degree to which cigarette smuggling occurs in 47 of the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Second, they review the historical experiences of three states — Michigan, New Jersey and California — known to have problems with cigarette smuggling. The author's findings suggest that state policymakers should reassess the value of cigarette taxes as a revenue and public health tool. … more

Proposal to Raise Fees on Television Providers is Unnecessary, Likely to Increase Cable Rates

The State should not allow municipal governments to increase public, education and government channel fees when there is no evidence of additional demand. … more

Mackinac Center Amicus Curiae Brief in In re Complaint of Rovas Against SBC Michigan

The Mackinac Center’s brief urges the Michigan Supreme Court to hold that the judiciary need not defer to administrative agencies’ interpretations of ambiguous statutes. Alternatively, because Michigan courts (unlike federal courts) have not determined that agency rules created through formal adjudication are equivalent to rules created through notice-and-comment rulemaking, the Court could hold simply that there is no judicial deference to rules created through adjudication, leaving aside the question of deference to notice-and-comment rules.
The Michigan Supreme Court decided the case in July 2008. The justices held that the rulings of state agencies should not receive deference from the courts and that the Michigan judiciary hence plays an integral role in reviewing the legality of agency actions. The ruling places a direct check on the power of state agencies to interpret and to act upon laws passed by the Michigan Legislature.
The decision is a landmark in Michigan jurisprudence, particularly since it diverges from federal jurisprudence, which grants almost unlimited power to federal agencies in implementing laws passed by Congress. The court's ruling was substantially in agreement with the arguments presented in this brief. … more

A Teacher Quality Primer

For Michigan School Officials, State Policymakers, Media and Residents

While it is true that Michigan students learn a variety of skills in their time at school, perhaps the most important charge of public schools, beyond providing a safe and healthy environment, is to ensure that students are learning "the three R’s." Unfortunately, the achievement levels of Michigan public school students raise doubts about the quality of public education in the state. This volume has been written to assist local and state policymakers who want to initiate and support teacher quality reforms to improve Michigan's primary and secondary schools. … more

Hart Enterprises: A Wetland Case Study

This study analyzes a dispute between Hart Enterprises Inc., a medical device manufacturer located north of Grand Rapids, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The department alleges that Hart Enterprises’ property contains a nearly one-acre wetland — an area that lies in the way of the company’s proposed expansion of its parking lot. Because of the DEQ’s ruling, the department expects the company to request a wetland permit — request that might be denied, or that might be granted only with significant conditions attached.

Readers may view a supplemental video of Russ Harding interviewing Alan Taylor of Hart Enterprises… more

Proposals to Further Regulate Michigan’s Electricity Market: An Assessment

More than a dozen bills are pending in the Michigan Legislature to expand regulation of the electricity industry and to impose new environmental requirements on energy production and sales. As a group, these legislative proposals assume the necessity of government intervention in the production and distribution of energy. This report details the drawbacks for consumers and the economy of substituting political forces for market forces in electricity service. … more

Mackinac Center Amicus Curiae Brief in Michigan Department of Transportation v. Tomkins

On November 16, 2007, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a brief of amicus curiae with the Michigan Supreme Court in the case of Michigan Department of Transportation v Tomkins. The legal dispute involves the amount of compensation a property owner should receive from state government when the state uses eminent domain to take part of the owner’s property. Specifically, the Michigan Supreme Court asked whether a state law that limits the property owner’s compensation to so-called "special-effect" damages violates the common understanding of the "just compensation" guaranteed in eminent domain cases by the Michigan Constitution. … more

The Opportunities and Limitations of Biomonitoring

Remarkable advances in analytical chemistry now make it possible to measure minute levels of both natural and synthetic compounds in human tissue and body fluids. This “biomonitoring” allows researchers to determine more precisely than ever the degree to which individuals have been exposed to specific chemicals in the environment, and how exposures change over time. Consequently, federal and state officials increasingly regard biomonitoring as a potential new underpinning of environmental and public health regulations. … more

Choice Leadership

Popular literature is full of praises for “the common man,” but as these two essays by Ben Stafford illustrate, it’s usually the uncommon men and women who make big things happen. Virginia Walden Ford and Alberta C. Wilson are too modest and focused on others to tell you themselves, but Ben makes it clear that many inner-city children and parents have benefited from the uncommonness of these two women. They are courageous, forward-thinking, can-do citizens. They understand the value of a good education and a strong character, and they have been willing to stand up for those values at no small expense to themselves. … more

Replacing Michigan’s New Taxes With Budget Reductions: Curing $1.358 Billion in Overspending With 55 Specific Recommendations

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has regularly recommended specific state spending reductions to balance the state’s budget and improve Michigan’s public policy. The following list shows how the state could reduce spending immediately to help balance the state budget if policymakers chose to forgo the projected $1.358 billion in fiscal 2008 revenue from the recent state income tax hike and the new sales tax on certain services. … more

The Edmonton Public Schools Story

Internationally Renowned Superintendent Angus McBeath Chronicles His District’s Successes and Failures

Faced with budget battles, declining enrollments and tense contract negotiations, Michigan school leaders could seize upon the advice of a superintendent and educator who has faced the very same issues for 30 years and who now consults with school districts. … more

A Model Right-to-Work Amendment to the Michigan Constitution

This policy brief discusses several foundational legal concepts and sets forth model language for a legally sound right-to-work amendment to the Michigan Constitution. … more

The Economic Effects of Right-to-Work Laws: 2007

Many states have given workers complete discretion to decline membership in, and financial support of, a union that they individually oppose. Enacting a right-to-work law abolishes agency fees and allows workers themselves to decide if a union deserves their financial support. … more

The Effects of Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Law

Michigan’s prevailing wage law adds unnecessary costs to construction projects at taxpayers’ expense. … more

Survey 2007: More Growth in School Support Service Privatization

Privatization is a time-tested management tool used by governments around the world. It can take many forms, but competitive contracting is the most prevalent in the United States whether in municipalities or within the realm of public education. In some regards, Michigan is a national leader in competitive contracting in education; in other areas it is a laggard. … more

Michigan Higher Education: Facts and Fiction

The observed shrinkage in state appropriations over the first half of the decade was actually a positive development: one that dampened, albeit modestly, the real relative economic decline of the state. Moreover, it calls into question a growth strategy based on expansion of higher education. Indeed, other results included in the econometric estimation suggest that a better growth strategy would be to put the entire Michigan state government on a diet in order to finance a reduction in the overall tax burden. While higher education expenditures are not growth-inducing, the evidence shows that tax reductions are.
NOT AVAILABLE IN PRINT … more

Road Funding: Time for a Change

A Collective Bargaining Primer

For Michigan School Board Members

Collective bargaining determines not only the quality and responsiveness of a school district’s teachers and support personnel, but the amount of money remaining to school board members to benefit the children under their care. Thus, while labor negotiations may sometimes feel remote from the process of helping children learn in the classroom, the results of this bargaining often affect a school board’s ability to implement educational policies.

This book is designed to assist school board members in understanding the basic principles and laws of collective bargaining, including some of the major substantive and procedural challenges facing Michigan school boards. In addition, the text is full of quotations from school board members and other education professionals concerning their experiences with collective bargaining and school employee unions. The combination of informational content and personal reflections provides new insights to school board members — and to policymakers, journalists and the general public, as well. … more

Assessing Stricter Mercury Controls in Michigan

On April 17, 2006, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm directed the Department of Environmental Quality to draft a rule under the state’s Clean Air Act to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 90 percent. The governor ordered the reductions to occur in two phases. The first phase is supposed to entail the reduction schedule established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year. The second phase is supposed to exceed the federal requirements by reducing emissions 90 percent by the year 2015. … more

Proposal 4: A Legal Review and Analysis

Proposal 4 of 2006, which will appear on the November ballot, is a proposed state constitutional amendment that would alter state law regarding eminent domain, the legal theory that permits the government to take private property for public use if the government pays just compensation. … more

School Choice Snapshot: A 2006 Survey of U.S. Policy and Advocacy Organizations

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy worked on this survey project from November 2005 through September 2006. We provided assistance to the survey researcher, Adam B. Schaeffer, who was then a National Research Initiative Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., by collaborating on the survey instrument, offering relevant and limited information from our database, handling technical details of inviting and following up with participants, and editing and publishing this document. … more

The Stop Overspending Michigan Initiative: A Review and Analysis

The proposed “Stop Overspending” state constitutional amendment, which failed to gain ballot status in the November 2006 election, addressed four major areas ... … more

Assessing the Case for Cable Franchise Reform

Advances in technology now make it possible for both cable firms and telecommunications companies to provide voice, data and video services to most homes and businesses. This constitutes a dramatic change from the days of cable dominance in the video market, and that of the “Baby Bells” in telephone service. What hasn’t changed, however, is the franchise regime that has long limited access to the local market and thus inhibited competition. In this paper, Diane S. Katz examines the effects of this obsolete regulation on consumers and the economy, as well as the myriad benefits of reform. … more

Guarantee of
Quality Scholarship

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is committed to delivering the highest quality and most reliable research on Michigan issues. The Center guarantees that all original factual data are true and correct and that information attributed to other sources is accurately represented.

The Center encourages rigorous critique of its research. If the accuracy of any material fact or reference to an independent source is questioned and brought to the Center’s attention with supporting evidence, the Center will respond in writing. If an error exists, it will be noted in a correction that will accompany all subsequent distribution of the publication. This constitutes the complete and final remedy under this guarantee.