Type “right-to-work” into the search function on the Mackinac Center’s website and you get well over 800 commentaries, studies, blog posts and media hits. It is, to date, the Center’s crowning achievement as we mark our first quarter century. But the last three decades have featured a plethora of other policy victories — from labor to education to fiscal matters — that we can build on as we move into our second quarter century. Here is a look at some of the victories that have helped make Michigan a freer and more prosperous state.
In 2021, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation represented Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. LeDuff was investigating the reported deaths in nursing homes and other long term care facilities, but the department refused to provide data that would allow him to determine the accuracy of the state’s reporting. After settling the lawsuit, a preliminary investigation showed that MDHHS was inaccurately reporting deaths in these facilities, which prompted the House Oversight Committee to ask the Michigan Auditor General to review the state’s numbers.
Our lawsuit, and subsequent joint investigation, revealed that Michigan’s reporting of COVID deaths in long-term-care facilities was significantly inaccurate. Unfortunately, this inaccuracy resulted in COVID-19 being made to appear deadlier to the generally populace, while also appearing less dangerous to the residents of long-term-care facilities. We now know that, at a time when science and data was being touted as the justification for COVID policies affecting nearly every aspect of Michigander’s lives, our data was incorrect.
Gov. Whitmer's unilateral control of COVID-19 policies during her declared state of emergency was deemed illegal and unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court as a result of a case filed by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. This lawsuit was filed on behalf of three medical providers who could not provide care to patients and an individual who was denied care by one of Gov. Whitmer’s hundreds of executive orders. State law is clear that emergencies declared under a 1976 act need to be extended by the Legislature. The court unanimously held that the governor violated this law. Our attorneys also argued that a 1945 emergency powers law was unconstitutional because it violated the state constitution’s separation of powers requirement. The court agreed, found that law to be unconstitutional and ended the governor's attempt to maintain unilateral control for an indefinite period.
To fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Mackinac Center scholars quickly rolled out a series of reforms. This included suspending “Certificate of Need” laws that limit how and which hospitals can expand their services, including adding more beds. We also supported loosening scope-of-practice laws that prevent medical workers from providing care and rolling back licensing rules that block people from working. We suggested spending cuts on inefficient government programs to put the funding where it was needed most. These suggestions were largely adopted with bipartisan support.
Michigan lawmakers passed a law that requires a criminal conviction before law enforcement can seize and keep a person’s property. The Mackinac Center has called for this change to civil asset forfeiture laws since 1996 and worked with a bipartisan coalition to get it done.
A new law finally gives Michigan drivers a choice in auto insurance. The state had the highest mandated coverage in the nation by far. This lead to the highest cost and an untold number of uninsured drivers. The Center argued for a system based on consumer choice and individual preferences for decades, writing its first insurance report in the 1980s.
Detroit Prep is a school in a low-income part of the city, serving students who are considered "at-risk" of not graduating. Despite those obstacles, the children perform at a high level – with academic achievements significantly better than the nearby traditional public school district in Detroit. This success led to a growing student body, but when they tried to purchase and rehabilitate an old school building, Detroit Public Schools did everything they could to stop them from operating a school there. That’s when the Mackinac Center stepped in, working with the school and lawmakers and ensured school districts could not stop other public schools from opening up nearby.
On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public employees nationwide have First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association that protect them from being forced to pay a union just to keep their jobs. This made every government worker nationwide “right-to-work,” fulfilling a longtime Mackinac Center policy recommendation. Our research and legal arguments were cited in the high court's decision.
Michigan finally repealed its 50-year-old “prevailing wage” law, which mandated using union wages on all government construction projects, regardless of what the fair market rates were for this work. This is estimated to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Its removal was recommended decades ago by the Mackinac Center.
Teacher pension reform was adopted. The Mackinac Center had recommended closing the teacher pension system for years, as the system accumulated more and more debt. The old pension system had only 60 percent of the money it needed to fulfill promises it had made to Michigan's teachers, and was nearly $30 billion in debt. The state successfully closed the old plan to new employees and created a new system with generous benefits and no options for underfunding, a solution that made Michigan a national leader in pension reform.
Michigan passed comprehensive transportation reform. Although people had been using ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft for years, it was not fully legal in Michigan. Some drivers were ticketed for operating without a license, even though no license existed for their work. The Mackinac Center launched a campaign to highlight the benefits of ridesharing, and in the end, the state passed legislation that protected ridesharing from local meddling and reduced the regulatory burden on taxi and limousine companies, making Michigan a model for transportation reform across the country.
The Michigan Legislature ends the state's film subsidy program. The Mackinac Center was one of very few voices that opposed the unsuccessful program from its inception in 2008.
The Michigan Supreme Court ended the forced unionization of public employees using an argument forwarded by a Mackinac Center amicus brief: That the Civil Service Commission lacks the power to tax and therefore cannot compel public employees to pay agency fees. The ruling agrees that public employees should have been able to opt out of union membership since Michigan's new constitution went into effect in 1963.
MichiganVotes, launched in 2001, became the basis for the VoteSpotter app that notifies users when their representatives at the state and national level vote on important bills. The app provides plain-language descriptions of each bill and allows users to approve or disapprove of the vote and to contact their legislator by phone or email to explain why.
Michigan becomes the nation’s 24th right-to-work state — 20 years after the Center first called for the law.
Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation banning the use of public resources to deduct union dues from teacher payroll checks, which the Center first called for in 1995. The law was challenged by the MEA but was subsequently upheld in court.
Teacher pension reform incorporated Center recommendations, abolishing retiree health care benefits for future retirees and requiring current retirees to contribute 20 percent toward the cost of their own benefits.
Ballot proposals that would have enshrined union privileges in the state constitution; prevented right-to-work; increased utility bills through higher mandates on renewable energy sources; and locked in the stealth unionization of home-based caregivers were defeated at the ballot box. Center analysts published studies examining each proposal and educated scores of voters on the issues at public appearances and through commentaries, Op-Eds and media interviews.
Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a reform of the personal property tax, which Center analysts had long explained was a burdensome tax on businesses simply for owning tools and equipment.
The stealth unionization scheme forcing home-based day care owners into a public-sector union against their knowledge or will came to an end after a 19-month court battle led by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. The MCLF would later lead the charge against similar forced unionization cases involving graduate student research assistants at public universities and home-based care givers, freeing tens of thousands of individuals from forced unionization. Michigan Capitol Confidential, the Center’s online news source, closely monitored the plight of home-based care givers who were shanghaied into the SEIU, writing more than 80 stories and commentaries about the scheme and keeping a real-time count via an online “skim tracker” of some $35 million diverted from Medicaid to the union.
Gov. Rick Snyder adopted a Center recommendation in signing legislation to end the Michigan Business Tax.
The Michigan Economic Growth Authority is abolished. Center analysts raised concerns over the creation of MEGA, forcing Gov. John Engler to try three times before it was created in 1995. Numerous studies and commentaries over the years pointed out the discriminatory nature of the tax breaks offered by MEGA.
Legislation is passed and signed eliminating the arbitrary cap that had been placed on public charter schools. Center scholars for two decades had questioned the cap and pushed for unfettered school choice.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm signs into law a requirement that school districts incorporate merit pay when determining teacher compensation. The Center called for such a change some 19 years earlier.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm championed, and won legislative approval, for two cost-saving measures Center experts had promoted — the elimination of the state Department of History, Arts and Libraries and an end to tax subsidies for the Michigan State Fair.
What began as requests to school districts to post their checkbooks online culminated in a state law requiring them to list spending, salary and contract details under a clearly identifiable “transparency” button on their website.
Spurred on by a voter-initiated ballot proposal, the Legislature voted to end the Single Business Tax, which the Center had called for from its earliest days.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced that the ACT would replace the MEAP test for high school juniors. Two Center studies since 2001 had urged the state to use privately developed tests such as the ACT for such assessments.
Center analysts produced the only legal and economic analysis of Proposal 3, which would have enshrined special privileges for labor unions in the Michigan Constitution. The measure was voted down 54-46 percent.
Launched MichiganVotes.org, the world’s first web-driven legislative database that describes in plain English every bill and amendment, as well as recording every vote of every legislator. To date, MichiganVotes.org has described more than 25,000 bills.
The Center launched a biannual leadership conference, which it conducted until 2010. Center experts trained policy institute executives in effective management, communications and fundraising. In 12 years the Center trained more than 600 individuals from 47 states and 47 countries. The New York Times profiled the program in 2006.
The Michigan State Employees Retirement System is reformed, and all new hires placed into a defined-contribution system, which has saved taxpayers up to $4.3 billion in unfunded liabilities since then. Center analysts had called for such a change since 1991.
In a groundbreaking study, the Center conceived the Universal Tuition Tax Credit, which would expand educational choices for parents and students. Eighteen states have now enacted tuition tax credits in some form. The Wall Street Journal calls the Mackinac Center the nation’s “leading advocate for a universal education tax credit.”
Parental choice took another leap forward when Michigan adopted “schools-of-choice,” allowing students to attend any public school in their own or neighboring districts.
When the Michigan Accident Fund was sold, it was the largest privatization of any state-owned asset in the country to date. The move was suggested by the first study ever issued by the Center.
The Legislature adopted the Center’s recommendation that unions should have to seek employees’ permission to deduct dues from paychecks, bringing “paycheck protection” to some 45,000 unionized state workers.
A Mackinac Center investigation revealed that the Michigan Education Association contracted with private companies for food, janitorial, security and mailing services at its East Lansing headquarters, despite the union’s staunch opposition to privatization in public schools. In 1994 the Legislature passed a new law making privatization of noninstructional services a prohibited bargaining item. Today, nearly 70 percent of public schools in Michigan stretch education dollars by contracting out for food, custodial or transportation services.
Published a 20-point plan for state fiscal reform. Gov. John Engler fully or partially implemented 16 of those recommendations in his first term. In 1994 he wrote, “… when the Mackinac Center speaks, we listen.”
The Mackinac Center was Michigan’s first institution to recommend charter public schools. The Michigan Legislature subsequently enacted one of the nation’s first charter school laws in 1993, meaning children no longer had to attend the school to which they were assigned based on their ZIP code.
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