The pursuit of freedom has been marked by the ebb
and flow of governments that alternatively embrace, ignore or stifle the
liberties of the governed. One of the objectives of think tanks like the
Mackinac Center is to keep liberty-oriented principles alive when policymakers
are hostile to them. Then, when the ideological climate changes, ideas that
seemed out of vogue can suddenly gain new currency.
At the beginning of
2011, the tide of new leaders at all levels of state government brought new
receptivity to Mackinac Center ideas. Beginning in the transition period, the
offices of the new governor, attorney general and other high-ranking officials
called upon Center analysts for their expertise on issues ranging from
regulation to education.
This receptivity was
also apparent during the Jan. 12 swearing-in ceremony for the new Legislature.
Senior Legislative Analyst Jack McHugh, Michigan Capitol Confidential Managing
Editor Ken Braun and Vice President for Communications Michael Jahr spoke with
numerous legislators, legislative staff and reporters, and disseminated a
“Policy Blueprint for Michigan” — a collection of recent and reform-oriented
previous swearing-in ceremonies, it was clear this year that there was a heightened
awareness of and enthusiasm for Mackinac Center ideas,” said Jahr. “Legislators
recognized that Michigan would not recover without transformational policy
Specialist Kathy Hoekstra set up a camera near the Rotunda and recorded interviews
with a number of legislators, capturing their priorities and views on key
issues. Highlights were featured in a video for the Michigan Capitol
Specific Mackinac Center
recommendations were put forward by Gov. Rick Snyder during his State of the
State address on Jan. 19 and as part of his budget presentation on Feb. 17.
Among his proposals were the replacement of the Michigan business tax and surcharge
with a flat corporate tax; the elimination or reduction of several targeted
corporate tax credits, including the Michigan Economic Growth Authority and the
Michigan film incentive; the end of the item pricing law, which requires
Michigan retailers to place a price tag on every item they sell; state employee
concessions; incentives to local governments to enact employment benefit
reforms; the use of student aid fund money for community colleges; and
decreased retiree health care costs in state pension funds.
administration even made policy improvements simply by ending policies of the
previous administration. On March 1, Michigan Department of Human Services
Director Maura Corrigan announced that the DHS would stop diverting to unions
state money intended for child care for low-income children. The Mackinac
Center Legal Foundation had sued the DHS to stop this diversion and free
home-based day care providers who had been shanghaied into a government-sector
union (see "Victory: Day Care Owners Freed From So-Called Union!").
Mackinac Center policies were also reflected in numerous bills introduced in
the Legislature, including legislation that would:
- Increase emergency financial managers’ authority
and give them more opportunity to reform union agreements (now signed into law)
- Repeal the prevailing wage
- Eliminate binding arbitration
- Abolish the charter schools cap
- Repeal teacher tenure
- Require schools to post health insurance
expenses and withheld union dues online
- Modify the tenure act to make it easier for
districts to remove ineffective teachers
- Give farmers a defense against environmental
complaints (now signed into law)
- Prohibit rules more stringent than federal rules
- Shorten the time for approval of state
- Require state departments to compare standards
in nearby states and perform a cost-benefit analysis when proposing new rules
- Prohibit forced unionization
- Eliminate the Michigan Home Based Child Care
Council to free day care owners from a so-called union (see "Victory: Day Care Owners Freed From So-Called Union!").
Center expertise was
also sought by legislative committees. On Feb. 9, Braun proposed a series of
government reforms before the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing
Committee. Later that same day, Fiscal Policy Director Michael LaFaive
testified at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Michigan business tax.
LaFaive told the committee that eliminating the MBT and offsetting it with
spending cuts would create at least 120,000 jobs by 2016.
Another hearing and a
legislative resolution were generated by a Mackinac Center Issues & Ideas
Forum on Jan. 20 where environmental attorney Peter Glaser, a Mackinac Center
adjunct scholar, discussed the EPA’s war on energy (see "Protecting Living Standards From ‘Undead’ Regulation"). Sen. Tom
Casperson, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great
Lakes Committee, attended the forum and invited Glaser to testify on Feb. 10.
Casperson and Rep. Aric Nesbitt introduced non-binding resolutions asking
Congress to ban the EPA from unilaterally imposing greenhouse gas regulations.
Both resolutions passed easily.
On Feb. 16, Education
Policy Director Michael Van Beek testified to the House Education Committee,
pointing out Michigan’s national rankings of high teacher salaries and low
student achievement. But the best attended hearing was Labor Policy Director
Paul Kersey’s testimony before the House Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee
regarding Michigan’s prevailing wage law. Hundreds of unionized construction
workers chanted in protest, but Kersey’s voice was heard.
Further evidence that
Center ideas had shifted the window of political possibility in the right
direction emerged when House Speaker Jase Bolger on Jan. 12 said publicly that
Michigan has to “have a conversation about right-to-work” legislation. Bolger
is the highest-ranking state official to call for this long-recommended Center
One of the most revealing
indications that Lansing had experienced a sea change was signified by what was
taking place outside the corridors of power. “It’s now tax USERS holding angry
demonstrations in front of the Capitol, rather than tax PAYERS,” observed
Braun. “What a difference a year can make.”