The Mackinac Center's Next 30 Years

Thirty years ago, the Mackinac Center was barely more than an interesting idea, and Michigan was in trouble.

As we reach the end of our pearl anniversary year, we’ve enjoyed looking back at all the ways we’ve changed the state for the better:

Parents have many more choices for their children’s education: schools of choice, charter schools and more. Schools have more than doubled their rates of contracting for non-educational services, saving money and improving the quality of those services at the same time.

The state has reformed some of the worst taxes in the country, closed its underfunded pension systems, stopped subsidizing the movie industry and ended the Michigan Economic Growth Authority.

Unions can no longer compel workers to pay them as a condition of employment. People laughed at the idea of Michigan becoming a right-to-work state when we proposed it early in our history.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has represented dozens of Michiganders to defend their free speech rights, right-to-work freedoms and more. Even when the Legal Foundation has lost a case, we’ve won the policy reforms we were after.

But as much as we love to talk about our accomplishments, it’s more interesting to talk about what comes next.

Amy Kellogg works as assistant to the president of the Mackinac Center. “I hope we don’t exist in 30 years!” she said when asked what the Center would look like in 2047. That’s a hope we all share — that the work we’re doing now will make Michigan such a paragon of fiscal responsibility, personal freedoms and limited government that there will be nothing left for us to do. That seems about as likely today as right-to-work seemed in 1987. While we’ll never say never, we do have a few more realistic hopes.

We expect that next year, all public workers in the country to have the right to leave their union if they wish, thanks to Janus v. AFSCME. In Michigan, this will affect the public workers who were left out of the state’s right-to-work law — mostly police and firemen. Across the country, millions will benefit, and we will be there to help them.

In 2047, we hope workers will be represented by unions that truly advocate for their interests and use their dues money serving their members. This, we hope, will be made possible through labor reforms like recertification, which holds unions democratically accountable to their members. By 2047, government unions may be outlawed, as voters realize that FDR was right all along: It's counterproductive to let unions bargain against taxpayers.

We look forward to giving students and families even more educational options. A universal tuition tax credit would be a great start, but with technological advancements, we may even find a way to completely customize education for each student. Kids should be able to pursue a wide variety of subjects and advance as quickly and as far as they would like.

In 30 years, we hope we’ve managed to successfully make the case for more state tax reform. Lowering or eliminating the personal income tax would stimulate growth and help the state’s economy thrive. We plan to continue our campaigns against corporate welfare until it is no longer an enticement for politicians who feel they need to "do something." A fair field with no favors will make Michigan a better place to risk your fortune and run a business.

There are probably hundreds of boxes of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests in our basement. These things accumulate over three decades when you're fighting for greater government transparency. As technology has improved, we’ve seen more FOIA requests fulfilled without using paper, but Steve Frick, our manager of information systems, sees a future where FOIA requests are obsolete.

By 2047, maybe all publicly available information will be available without a FOIA, visible on the internet or the like. Even better, humans won’t have to look for fraud themselves. Perhaps artificial intelligence will have developed enough to uncover it without our help. If any government entities are foolish enough to break the law, the Mackinac Center’s programs will tell us, and we will be sure Michiganders hear about it, too.

Two of our initiatives are just getting started, but they’ll have three decades of success behind them by 2047. In criminal justice reform, we’re looking forward to a state that has a transparent and sensible system for sentences, incarceration, fines and rehabilitation for all people who break the law. We’ve already made strides toward two of our goals: reducing overcriminalization and reforming civil asset forfeiture. By 2047, we should have a routine in place to regularly cull and update laws, and civil asset forfeiture should be entirely abolished in the state, meaning law enforcement will no longer be able to keep property of citizens without first convicting them of a crime.

Energy and environmental policy both present great opportunities for reform over the next few decades. We look forward to implementing full energy choice in Michigan, improving the quality of energy at a lower cost to consumers. By 2047, it is unlikely the world will still have to rely as heavily on fossil fuels for energy, but that progress will have come through private innovation. Renewable energy will no longer require enormous subsidies to be affordable.

Infrastructure goes hand in hand with environmental policy, and we’d like to see a state with a sensible, data-driven method for infrastructure maintenance. It would cover schedules for road repair, efficient replacement and improvements to sewers and water lines. We already have the technology; now it’s time to make potholes a thing of the past.

Regulation is a perennial frustration for the liberty minded. Fortunately, Michigan is on a good path, having already reformed rules for taxis, limousines and ridesharing companies. Soon it should do the same for homesharing companies like Airbnb and HomeAway, which would help with regulation levels and protect property rights.

The state has already passed some legislation allowing the testing and development of self-driving cars; by 2047, fully automated cars will be everywhere, with Michigan still at the forefront of the automotive industry (assuming we haven’t developed teleportation by then). In related news, Michiganders should be paying much less for car insurance by 2047: either automated cars will disrupt the insurance business or the Legislature will finally have enacted needed reforms. Either way, car owners win.

We’re seeing slow but steady progress in occupational licensing. Thirty years from now, most occupational licenses will be a thing of the past. For medical professions and others with safety or significant financial implications, a reasonable, limited licensing structure will probably still make sense. But we look forward to the day when painters and barbers no longer need government approval to serve others.

We may be hoping for a lot, but we’ve already accomplished so much, and we’re only getting better at making Michigan a great place to live, work and do business. We can’t wait to see what the state looks like after another 30 years. With your help, we can ensure the future looks bright.