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The term “essential” assumed a new meaning in 2020 as essential workers kept critical services going throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A new tuition program, created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and called “Futures for Frontliners,” offers opportunities for these Michigan workers to further their education, but it may not deliver on its promise of helping more Michigan residents get a college education.

Lawmakers and people who rely on state spending were worried about how much the state would need to be cut as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these early concerns, it turns out that the answer is: Not at all. In fact, federal spending more than makes up for the small losses in state revenue — and by a lot.

2021 Senate Bill 1: Limit state health department epidemic orders without legislative approval

Introduced by Sen. Lana Theis (R) on January 13, 2021, to restrict emergency orders the state health department (the Department of Health and Human Service) may impose in response to an epidemic to 28 days unless an extension is approved by the legislature. A state Public Health Code adopted by the legislature in 1978 gives the department the authority to issue such orders.

The traditional path to become a teacher in Michigan requires getting a bachelor’s degree from an in-state program, completing a teacher preparation program and passing state-approved tests. But that model puts up unnecessary obstacles, prevents school districts from hiring certain candidates and doesn’t result in better educators.

According to The New York Times, Michigan is one of only three states that have a statewide ban on indoor dining. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hinted this week that she may modify her lockdown policies to permit restaurants to reopen on Feb. 1. But restaurant owners shouldn’t hold their breath: The governor and her health department director would not commit to this at a press conference yesterday and offered reasons why the ban may continue.

The 100th Michigan Legislature — which ran from 2019 to 2020 — approved the least amount of business subsidies since 2001, according to a scorecard compiled by the Mackinac Center. While lawmakers may be tempted to give state taxpayer dollars to some businesses in the name of creating jobs, the policy is ineffective, unfair to companies that don’t get the handouts, and expensive for taxpayers.

The governor is loosening her lockdown orders, though what is and isn’t allowed to open still seems confusing and inconsistent. Closing lots of businesses by government decree has a questionable effect on reducing the harms of COVID-19, but a clearer effect on unemployment.

We at the Mackinac Center are deeply outraged and saddened by the events taking place today in our nation’s Capitol. As president, Donald Trump should be the foremost defender of our constitutional rule of law. His oath of office and allegiance to this country should compel him to denounce his supporters’ incursion of the Capitol and passionately call for them to withdraw immediately.

Throughout 2020, much of our attention has been focused on the uncertainties brought on by the novel coronavirus and the prolonged election season. With so much of our time and effort taken up by lockdowns, personal distancing and campaigns, it has been a struggle to keep track of many of the other issues that typically affect our lives.

In a previous blog post, I provided a year-end assessment of the fiscal goodies offered to corporations and industries in Michigan. Our state gives these taxpayer-funded subsidies to a lucky few in the name of “economic development.” That is, bureaucrats give your money to handpicked corporations in the hope of creating more jobs and economic growth than they think might exist without it.

For many students these days, getting to school entails logging on to a computer from the comforts of home. Yet as more families return to face-to-face instruction, the issue of school transportation will take on even greater significance than before.

For the most part, Michigan lawmakers kept an expansion of the state’s corporate handout complex at bay over the last year. In 2021, they should continue to trim taxpayer subsidies for corporations and industry. The money would be better spent addressing higher priorities.

Michigan lawmakers passed a temporary income tax hike in 2007 that’s still with us. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor’s insistence on raising taxes, Michigan’s finances are looking good. Lawmakers can afford to lower the income tax if it is important to them.

Editor's Note: This article was first published by The Detroit News on December 2, 2020.

Many Michigan families are crying out for better learning options for their children than Zoom classrooms. State officials can step in to help but should be prepared to think outside the box.

Elementary and middle schools can still offer in-person instruction at the discretion of local authorities, yet some districts remain shuttered. In one prominent example, Ann Arbor school board members have turned their backs on hundreds of parents who have called on them to re-open classrooms for younger and disabled children.

Recent events have shown that qualified immunity gives government officials too much power, making it nearly impossible to hold them responsible for anything but the most heinous offenses. Although the issue of qualified immunity has come up during recent criticism of police, the problems with it extend beyond policing. Qualified immunity also prevents citizens from holding many other government officials accountable for their actions, too.

If Michigan lawmakers are going to keep handing out taxpayer money to select businesses, they ought to be more transparent about it. The state does an adequate job of disclosing some information, but there is much room for improvement, and there are some proposals in the Legislature toward that end.

The end of November marks the 45th anniversary of watershed federal legislation now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The law enshrined the idea that every child with disabilities is entitled to a meaningful education that is inclusive as possible. Even though time has changed many perceptions of what students with disabilities can achieve, progress toward fulfilling the vision has left many dissatisfied.

In her latest attack on Line 5, the pipeline that transports oil and natural gas liquids through the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan’s governor has moved to revoke the 1953 easement contract that allows the pipeline to operate. This arbitrary and ill-advised move will shutter a key part of the state’s essential energy infrastructure, increase the price of heating and transportation fuels, and threaten thousands of jobs across the region.

Throughout 2020, we have recognized the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by publishing a list of 50 reasons why people should be optimistic about our environment and our future. Human ingenuity is driving efficiency and technological improvements that are making the world better a better place for humans to thrive. Our last post took us past the halfway point of our list of 50. This post takes us almost to the end.

Traverse City has been rolling out a government-owned broadband network. But like most municipal internet systems across the country, it’s running behind schedule, over budget and attracting fewer customers than projected.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appeared caught in a political pickle. In the spring, she seized unilateral control of Michigan’s policy response to COVID-19, effectively blocking all legislative initiative. The Michigan Supreme Court rebuked this approach and told the governor to work with the Legislature. But she simply pivoted to using other administrative powers and has remained in complete control of the entire state.