How to Renew Michigan

(Editor’s note: The following commentary is an edited version of a letter President Joseph G. Lehman recently sent to Mackinac Center supporters.)

Gov. Rick Snyder and the new Legislature face one overriding priority — to get the state’s fiscal house in order.  Not only is that goal extremely important, it’s most urgent as well. A state that cannot pay its bills cannot even perform the most basic, core functions of government.

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We’re helping with that top priority. As we had hoped and planned, the new crop of leaders is asking for the Mackinac Center’s ideas. Policymakers have met and conferred with our analysts dozens of times — more in the last eight weeks than in the previous year.

Our biggest idea for immediate cost savings is to bring balance to public-sector benefits. Taxpayers can save $5.7 billion every year just by benchmarking public employee benefits to private-sector averages. That’s enough to close the deficit, eliminate the state business tax, fix the roads and still have hundreds of millions of dollars left. It can be done without cutting a single government program, eliminating one government job or reducing any public employee’s wage.

We’ve also updated “101 Recommendations to Revitalize Michigan” with a Top 10 list. And Education Policy Director Michael Van Beek demolishes union talking points with his report on seven common myths of school funding. The MEA doesn’t like to admit that per-pupil spending continues to increase. Annual operating costs average $11,337 for every child in the system. Ever-increasing chunks of that are consumed by deluxe, lifetime pension and health benefits for the adults in the system. Our Viewpoint commentaries also cover these ideas and more.

Although we judge lawmakers more by their actions than their speeches, Gov. Snyder’s State of the State address contained some true high points. Those included his calls to replace the Michigan Business Tax with a lower and much simpler levy, stop unneeded ergonomic regulations, and end the archaic law requiring retailers to waste money on inefficient, low-tech item pricing just as we recommended during the Granholm administration.

We don’t expect to agree with any governor on everything, but we agree on some big things right now, namely cutting spending to get the budget back in balance and cutting taxes to get the economy moving again. The sense of unity and energy at the top levels of state government is palpable. It’s good to see them focused on fundamental issues like taxes and spending rather than grandiose ideas to centrally plan the economy and our lives.

Once the budget is balanced, we’ll return our attention to longer-range ideas that won’t just stop Michigan’s slide, but will turbocharge its ascent — ideas like eliminating the cap on charter public schools, enacting a universal education tax credit, implementing a right-to-work law, and getting Michigan out from under unconstitutional and unaffordable federal health care mandates.

This could be the most pivotal year in more than two decades in Michigan. I hope you take a moment to appreciate how our ideas for free markets and limited government are taking center stage in the state’s policy debate.


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.

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