Turning Michigan Around

(Editor's note: This commentary was adapted from a letter Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman sent to Center supporters in October 2009.)

The last year has been full of nasty shocks, especially for Michigan. One thing not terribly shocking is that, once again, the Legislature and governor waited until the last minute to produce a state budget. They missed the Sept. 30 deadline to have a fiscal 2010 budget in place and continue to discuss tax hikes in the face of 15 percent unemployment. Let's not forget that the last time this happened — October 2007 — policymakers balanced the budget with a $1.4 billion tax hike, since which time Michigan's unemployment has more than doubled. This time around, the Legislature and Gov. Jennifer Granholm are trying to solve a self-created $2.8 billion overspending crisis.

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One would have hoped that missing a deadline everyone knew about for the second time in three years would have forced the governor and Legislature to prioritize the truly "essential" government services. Mackinac Center analysts have shown how to close the budget deficit without cutting core government functions.

Last spring, Gov. Granholm embraced more than $90 million worth of spending cuts that we first proposed. That's a start, but she'll have to embrace even more of our recommendations unless she thinks another tax increase is the way to go. The Detroit News has been publishing one budget-balancing idea per day, 10 of which have been provided by the Mackinac Center.

We've just produced some of our best work on how to change Michigan's direction, including:

  • Mike LaFaive and James Hohman's study on the Michigan Economic Development Corp., an agency that has failed to halt Michigan's economic slide, to say the least. Politicians who support MEDC programs because they feel the need to "do something" should instead lower taxes and regulatory obstacles for all job providers, not just for a favored few companies. A recent legislative amendment would prohibit special tax breaks for any firm that has in-state competition. An MEDC official testified that such an amendment would "neuter" the program. What does that say about the fairness of MEDC tax policy?
  • Paul Kersey's analysis of the state's major law concerning government employee labor unions, the Public Employee Relations Act. One reason state spending is out of control is near-universal public employee unionization. Repealing PERA is just the sort of bold stroke the state needs right now. But short of that, the Legislature could pass any number of improvements detailed in the report.
  • The first case of the new Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, Loar v. Department of Human Services. MCLF Director Patrick Wright uncovered an outrageous but ingenious scheme to funnel millions of dollars into union bank accounts from funds intended to help low-income parents pay for their children's day care. We believe the state acted illegally. If we are successful, we will free 40,000 home-based day care operators like Sherry Loar and Dawn Ives from forced unionization and restore millions of dollars to people the Legislature intended to help.

For our first 20 years, the Mackinac Center impacted policy mainly through research and educational programs on issues before the legislative and executive branches. That will always be our core focus, but litigating constitutional questions is a natural and necessary extension of that work.

Proponents of bigger and more intrusive government have a long history of litigating to achieve their goals. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation is a new, energetic proponent of the legal principles that uphold limited, constitutional government.

Please check out our award-winning videos, which will take you a lot less time than reading our studies and legal briefs. In three minutes or so, our analysts outline the major findings and recommendations contained in their reports. I especially hope you will watch the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation videos. In them, Sherry and Dawn tell how a union is taking from them money intended to help their customers' children. We also explain why we are suing on their behalf. Powerful stuff at www.mackinac.org.


Joseph G. Lehman is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.