For the first time in almost 40 years, Michigan is under the leadership of the Democrat Party in all three branches of the state government. This trifecta, however, is slim. Since it takes 20 votes in the Senate and 56 votes in the House to pass a bill, one defection or absence in the majority caucus carries enormous weight.
The state Senate has 14 new members, though most are not new to the Legislature; 11 have served in the House. In the new House, however, nearly half of the 110 members are true freshmen. There are 57 new representatives — 29 Republicans, 28 Democrats — and only three have previously served in either the House or the Senate.
With these upcoming changes, there is considerable speculation about the new majority’s legislative priorities. Of greatest concern to the Mackinac Center is the threat to Michigan’s right- to-work law. Democratic legislators introduced a bill to repeal the law in January.
It should be noted, however, that numerous public polls indicate Michigan’s voters do not want the right-to-work law repealed or see repeal as a legislative priority. Voters even rejected a proposed constitutional amendment in 2012 that would have banned right-to-work. More than 2.6 million Michiganders voted against that ballot measure, which is 200,000 more than Gov. Whitmer received last November. The people have spoken and expressed their will that right- to-work should be protected.
Other areas of concern include creating or expanding special carve-outs for income tax exemptions rather than reducing the income tax for all people. The practice of giving out company-specific subsidies will likely carry over in this new session, though study after study shows it to be ineffective, expensive and unfair.
We are also keeping an eye on education policy. Charter schools may be threatened by targeted spending cuts and inappropriate restrictions. There may also be other efforts to restrict parents’ ability to choose different educational options.
The Mackinac Center can do more than play defense, however. There will be opportunities to advance public policy recommendations that we have researched and promoted in recent years.
For example, the governor and legislative leaders have expressed support for expanding the Freedom of Information Act to the legislative branch and the governor’s office. This would significantly increase visibility into the process of making governing decisions, curtailing a practice of keeping the public in the dark.
The new majorities will likely explore replacing the fuel tax with mileage-based user fees, the topic of a recent Mackinac Center report. Criminal justice reform is an area of further opportunity, which should be undertaken with a measured approach to ensure just results while avoiding unintended consequences.
Occupational licensing is another area ripe for more reforms. Michigan is burdened by unnecessary occupational licensing laws and regulations. These limit many people from obtaining jobs that would benefit them and their fellow state residents. The state has already enacted helpful reforms in the last decade, such as making it easier for individuals with a criminal record to reenter society through work and paving the way for those with military service to get licensed.