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Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican lawmakers are at a budget impasse. Most of the focus has been on transportation spending; the governor wants a massive fuel tax increase while lawmakers do not. But the heart of the fight is over other budget issues.

If you want to live a long, healthy life, you shouldn’t wait until your 80s to take up jogging and add vegetables to your diet. Rather, you have to make decisions daily that put your long-term health above short-term pleasures, like that one extra slice of cake. Municipalities hold a similar responsibility when it comes to the health of their pension systems. If they defer paying for them too long, they can get out of control, and then it might be too late.

The governor and legislative leadership want to make a road funding deal part of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. If they are unable to pass a budget by October, the state government shuts down and only the “essential” state operations continue until they approve a new budget. That is a good reason to pass a budget before the deadline. But there is no good reason to shut down the government if they can’t find a consensus about road funding.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a line item in a bill that would have provided $10 million to compensate individuals wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. The action raised eyebrows, as political support for the compensation is all but universal. But the governor was actually taking a stand in defense of one of the three provisions of the Michigan Constitution that provides for direct democracy.

The number of school librarians in Michigan has declined as of late and some state lawmakers want to mandate every school to hire one, with the hope that this will improve literacy rates. This would be expensive and probably ineffective. But if lawmakers want more librarians, there is a way to get them with minimal costs – reform state licensing laws.

As part of a compromise to get a business subsidy program approved in 2017, lawmakers agreed to limit it to $200 million. They also agreed to stop awarding new deals in 2020, but as that deadline nears, lawmakers will be tempted to extend the program. They should resist.

Is the quality of the air getting worse? Changes in government standards — and a focus on the most distressing points in the data — may give that impression. But that data, when viewed from a long-term perspective, shows that air pollution has decreased over the past few decades.

Editor's Note: This piece first appeared in The Detroit News on Aug. 5, 2019. 

In 2017, lawmakers adopted a new corporate subsidy giveaway that supporters called the "Good Jobs for Michigan" program. It provides tax incentives to lure big, sometimes multinational, corporations into relocating to or expanding in Michigan.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on July 23, 2019. 

A long list of governments bent over backward to give taxpayer money to Amazon for its HQ2 project. That was a national embarrassment, and we’re not the only ones to think so. Local officials implied as much when they made their bids confidential. When they think it’s possible to offer public money to a private company and keep it a secret, they insult the public. Everyone deserves this basic level of government transparency.

In the height of summer comes news of the death of a former Michigander who helped refine winter and the Winter Olympics, introducing a sport and a cultural phenomenon that brings joy (and sometimes frustration!) to millions.

Sherman Poppen died on July 31 at the age of 89, but for most people, his life was defined by something he did on Christmas Day, 1965. Poppen was at his Muskegon home, looking for a way to entertain his young daughters. He fashioned some old skis into a new device for sliding down the snow while standing up. He eventually called it a Snurfer, and Brunswick, the company best known for making bowling pins, sold many of them. My mother worked at Brunswick, so I had two different models, and I kept falling off each one.

The governor ran on a promise to fix the roads and to fix them with more money. It turns out that the “more money” part of her pitch mattered more than fixing roads. This preference was part of her campaign even if it wasn’t her main talking point; residents can now hear the dissonance between the two goals in the current road funding debate.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on July 12, 2019.

When a major electric utility plans to fundamentally restructure its generation system, ratepayers would do well to compare the plan with similar ones implemented by utilities in nearby jurisdictions. If the other attempts led to widespread economic damage and higher electricity rates, the new proposal should be soundly rejected.

On July 8, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan joined to announce a campaign focused on removing stigmas about skilled trades jobs and highlighting career options that do not involve enrolling in college. This program represents the latest effort in Whitmer’s mission to close the so-called skills gap in Michigan, which has included a plan to increase per-pupil funding for K-12 career and technical education from $50 to $487 per student. While well-intentioned, these initiatives may simply increase enrollment and spending for programs that have not proven themselves effective. To truly solve the problems the governor seeks to tackle, a more serious reform of career and technical education is needed.

The idea of increasing tax rates — including, most recently, imposing a graduated income tax — gets treated seriously by journalists and editors in the state. Proposals to cut taxes, by contrast, often get belittled, and proponents are treated like they have pathological disorders. That portrayal is not coming from the advocates for a larger government; it is coming from our news outlets.

In attempting to find more resources for road repairs, lawmakers seem to have painted themselves into a corner. They want a lot of money and they want it now, but they can’t raise taxes or cut the budget. A number of proposals have been made to increase taxes, and we’ve promoted some ways to save money. But lawmakers can also wait.

Michigan fire departments are mostly staffed by professional, paid firefighters. About one in four is a full-timer and one in seven is a volunteer; the remainder are part-timers. Departments that employ mostly full-time staffers cost local taxpayers millions more than volunteer stations, but they don’t have much to show for it.

There is ongoing debate in Michigan about how to fund state legislative priorities, such as road funding. The Mackinac Center has weighed in repeatedly with recommendations on how to increase road funding while avoiding a large net tax increase.

In 2011, Michigan lawmakers passed a bill that required public school employees to contribute more to the cost of their health insurance coverage, with most having to pay 20% of their premiums. At the time, the typical teacher paid only 4%, while the average private sector worker paid 22-27%. The move has saved school districts hundreds of millions of dollars, which can be used to help students learn more.

Midway through the summer months, the future of Benton Harbor schools seems as cloudy as ever. One potential solution for students in the troubled southwest Michigan district may come from not far down the road in Gary, Indiana, where an innovative and seemingly effective model has emerged.

Claims about clean energy jobs tend to be misleading for a number of reasons, but the most damning is that, when it comes to electricity generation, these jobs actually get very little work done relative to their fossil fuel counterparts. The higher the clean job numbers climb, the more dismal our energy production outlook becomes. More simply, clean energy jobs do not produce all that much per worker, so it takes an enormous number of people to produce even moderate amounts of electricity through them.

Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared in The Hill on July 6, 2019. 

In the United States, we legally consider 18-year-olds to be adults. You can’t drink alcohol, but you can smoke, own property and enlist in the military. Decades ago, you could be conscripted for the armed services, and few would blink an eye over two 18-year-olds getting hitched.

CQ Magazine, which is not an entity you can even find online anymore, just released a piece on charter schools and Betsy DeVos. There is a lot throughout the piece that is problematic: factual inaccuracies, inappropriate framing, a lack of good faith assumptions and more.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Detroit News on July 13, 2019.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has emphasized the need for “better skills, better jobs.”

When lawmakers approved a bill to require local governments to report to the state on their retirement systems, we warned that some local officials will abuse this process to hike taxes. The Charter Township of Bloomfield in Oakland County looks like it’s in the process of proving the point.