The Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative: “Enlightened Self-Interest”

Lon Morey

(The following article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2006 edition of Impact.)

Few people could have looked more relaxed and happy than Lon Morey and Michael D. LaFaive last Nov. 3. That evening the Mackinac Center for Public Policy held a reception at its headquarters to celebrate Morey’s generous pledge of $1 million, granted through the Morey Foundation of Winn, Mich., to the Center’s fiscal policy work. LaFaive, director of the Center’s newly christened "Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative," was not only immensely grateful to Morey, but also basking in an awareness of how much the contribution would increase his resources. As he’d noted to the media earlier: "The Morey Foundation’s donation to the Mackinac Center will have a tremendous impact on our ability to analyze state budget policy, taxation, privatization and economic development. It will virtually double our output on these issues."

Perhaps the best feeling that evening flowed from a recognition that the contribution epitomized the classic virtues of a free society. Mackinac Center President Lawrence W. Reed, observed that day: "The Morey family wants Michigan’s citizens to enjoy the same economic freedoms that the Moreys did years ago when they built their family business in Winn. Lon Morey, as president of the Morey Foundation, is acting in the finest tradition of enlightened self-interest by supporting the Center’s defense of those freedoms."

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Morey, president of Morbark Inc., a wood-chipping equipment company founded by his father in 1957, reinforced that view when he told the assembled guests at the reception: "The Morey family has supported the Mackinac Center for many years, and I’m proud that we’re going to continue the tradition here today. ... My father was grateful for the success he enjoyed and always felt that it was important that future generations be allowed, just as he was, to think freely, to pursue their dreams and to find success." Indeed, Morey’s father, Norval, was the first person ever to make a $1 million contribution to the Center.

Morey also explained to the guests that evening the Morey Foundation’s choice to contribute specifically to the Center’s fiscal policy initiative. That decision, he observed, proceeded directly from a desire to "ensure individual liberty and free-market principles are protected and advanced in this great state. The Mackinac Center and Mike have been doing great things on fiscal policy issues for many years here. They’ve kept their eye on government spending, on state spending. They’ve fought for lower taxes. They’ve worked to privatize government services. And they’ve pushed to make this state a better place to work and to live."

As Reed noted that evening, Morey is a generous person who "doesn’t seek attention for the good things he does" and remains "humble" and "down-to-earth." The day’s gathering was as much a richly deserved acknowledgement of Morey’s munificence as it was a celebration of shared values.

So it was fitting that the reception featured a wide range of people, including friends and relatives of the Morey family, as well as Mackinac Center staff, friends and contributors. It was also fitting that much of the talk focused on the tremendous impact the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative could have in the months and years to come. For instance, as LaFaive remarked, state budget research is "time-consuming and expensive" in ways that usually aren’t understood by the public. "The state budget," he noted, "has about 1,200 line items that often contain generic ‘catch-all’ descriptions about how state dollars are spent. Investigating exactly how money is distributed — and what products and services one line-item funds — can take 20 to 30 hours and cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in research funds."

Fiscal Energy

With much more of that money forthcoming, the key to effective research is energy, something LaFaive has continued to bring to the Center’s fiscal policy work in a variety of areas during the past few months.

  • Moving Opinions. In early January, when United Van Lines released data on the number of people whose households it moved across various state borders in 2005, LaFaive was ready with an analysis of the data’s significance (see Media Impact, Page 5). Within 24 hours, LaFaive had issued a news release alerting reporters to the finding that, "63.9 percent of the company’s interstate moves involving Michigan were outbound — the second highest outbound flow in the 48 contiguous states. This emigration rate is up from the 2004 figure of 60.9 percent and is just 3 percentage points below the state’s 1981 record."

    As LaFaive observed: "Michigan citizens are voting with their feet." The Center’s news release also referred reporters to a Web article with a more detailed analysis of the data by LaFaive and Mackinac Center Adjunct Scholar Michael J. Hicks. The piece cited a Center econometric analysis that indicated the United Van Lines data was highly reliable in reflecting American migration patterns, and the article also described other research suggesting that Michigan’s high tax burden is contributing to emigration from the state.

  • Status of the ‘State of the State.’ Immediately following Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s Jan. 25 State of the State address, LaFaive was able to inform reporters the same evening that her 20 proposed expansions of state government constituted "a record for an election year and the second highest total" in the Center’s database of Michigan State of the State addresses for the past 38 years. Within a few days, LaFaive had posted two Current Comments to the Center’s Web site, one providing further historical analysis, and the other citing parallels between Gov. Granholm’s remarks and Gov. James Blanchard’s dubious proposals in 1986.

  • Ongoing Coverage: Detroit and MEGA. LaFaive has had success continuing to generate media coverage for the Center’s five-point agenda for revitalizing Detroit. Endorsed by The Detroit News last September, the agenda was similarly endorsed by The Oakland Press in November and featured in an Investor’s Business Daily editorial in February. The continuing interest led The Detroit News on Feb. 16 to feature LaFaive’s Op-Ed "Detroit must cut taxes, spending, burdensome rules," regarding what the city should do to feed economic momentum after hosting the Super Bowl.

    At the same time, the results of LaFaive and Hicks’ April 2005 research on the effectiveness of the Michigan Economic Growth Authority has recently been cited in The Wall Street Journal, The Hartford Courant and two Op-Eds in the Detroit News (see Media Impact, Page 5). On March 15, The Detroit News published LaFaive’s Op-Ed "Michigan knows how to pick job losers," which reported the most recent company to declare bankruptcy after being favored by the state’s MEGA grants.

  • State Budget Cutting. In 2003 and 2004, LaFaive authored a budget study that called for, among other cuts, the state to stop sponsoring the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s Export Market Development Program. LaFaive has continued filing queries with the Michigan Department of Agriculture concerning the program, since the monies have often financed state-sponsored junkets that favored some Michigan producers over others and duplicated the efforts of other for-profit organizations. So far this year, the item has been omitted from the state budget.

These highlights of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative’s successes in the past few months bring to mind Aristotle’s maxim, "Well begun is half done." But in light of the tremendous opportunities lying ahead for the Initiative, it’s clear that the future promises much more progress ahead — an appropriate result for Lon Morey’s generous act of enlightened self-interest.