Looking back on 2019, the first year of divided government since 2010 treated Michiganders fairly well. We finally have a pathway and a timeline toward significant relief on our auto insurance premiums. We made good progress on criminal justice reform and ended the abusive practice of civil asset forfeiture. And even though it took almost until Christmas to finalize the details, the state budget meets most of the state’s essential needs without Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 45 cent per gallon gasoline tax increase.
This being an election year, the policy possibilities are more modest. Michigan is very much in play in the November presidential election, and it’s unclear which party will control the Michigan House next year. Legislators will want to spend as little time in Lansing as necessary so they can assure their own reelections and help their colleagues in their party’s push for the majority.
Realistically, any significant policy legislation must be on the governor’s desk before Memorial Day. The month of June and any session days during the summer will be about getting the fiscal year 2021 budget done; once it is finished, they’re on the campaign trail until early November. And given divided government, this December’s lame-duck session will be nowhere near as busy as 2018’s.
The main order of business for any legislature is adopting the state’s budget. Last year’s budget process did not go smoothly — deadlocked negotiations, line-item vetoes, and intradepartmental transfers, oh my! The hope is that 2020’s will be more orderly, but with the governor and legislative leaders having big differences in their preferred overall spending levels as well as more specific priorities, this summer could be testy.
One of the budget-related flashpoints will be Healthy Michigan, our state’s version of the national push to add more people to Medicaid. Approximately 670,000 new people have enrolled — almost 50% more than were forecast when the law was passed. As a result, the state is rapidly approaching the costs-exceed-savings trigger that would sunset the program. One thing the state did to try to keep the caseload under control is to impose a work requirement on recipients, which took effect on Jan. 1. The Mackinac Center will vigorously defend both the trigger and the work requirement.
Criminal justice reform will see a lot of activity, especially in the areas of pretrial incarceration and expunging old convictions. We are optimistic that the Legislature will take a look at overcriminalization, by which the state makes people increasingly at risk of becoming criminals, which happens, in part, through overly harsh rules set forth by state agencies.
Finally, corporate welfare will be another major conversation. We have been working with a bipartisan group of legislators on several bills that will increase transparency and accountability for the state’s corporate welfare programs. We will also work to wind down the bloated and extremely costly MEGA tax credits.
On the other hand, we will fight efforts to reinstate the misnamed and recently expired “Good Jobs for Michigan” program, which kicks back employee income taxes to politically connected businesses. We will also resist efforts to restore state funding for the ineffective Pure Michigan tourist marketing campaign.