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Michigan’s longstanding inability to compete with the Buckeyes on the college gridiron is no secret. Less well known is our state’s struggle to keep up with the educational opportunities Ohio offers to students and families. Thankfully, Lansing lawmakers have a new opportunity to dramatically shrink one of the gaps between the two states.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on September 18.

Throughout the pandemic, politicians repeatedly have claimed the mantle of science for themselves, sometimes as a cudgel to wield against others. But if science is important, why do so many politicians ignore the economic one? President Biden consistently says he will “follow the science,” but the economic policies he wants for the country are, in the eyes of economic science, deeply harmful.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Detroit News on October 9, 2021. 

A few years ago, the United Auto Workers wanted to build a retirement cottage on Black Lake for its recently retired president, Dennis Williams. It received two bids from union firms for the 3-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom, 1,885-square-foot home: one for $851,000 and another for $1.3 million.

In Michigan, anyone wanting to be a barber has to complete 1,800 hours of classes at one of the roughly one dozen licensed barber colleges in the state. That’s nearly 10 times the hours the state requires of EMTs — emergency medical technicians who respond to emergency calls and provide medical attention to patients.

House Bill 4712: Retroactively increase state subsidies for a particular developer: Passed 29 to 7 in the Senate

To retroactively make a particular developer’s project eligible for increased “refundable” state business tax credits under a suspended program that authorized actual cash payments from the state treasury to a relative handful of companies and developers approved by state officials. The bill would allow the particular developer to "shuffle" the credits/subsidies he was granted between two separate projects in a way that maximizes how much is collected.The bill would also increase the total subsidies the developer will receive, and allow another five years to complete the project. The House Fiscal Agency estimates this will result in a $12.8 million increase in either foregone state revenue, or in actual cash disbursements to this developer.

In 1965, Congress created the Medicaid program to pay for medical care for the vulnerable and those who cannot afford it. Unlike Medicare, which is run entirely by the federal government, Medicaid is administered by the states, with the federal government responsible for the bulk of the costs and state taxpayers contributing the rest.

House Bill 4837: Restrict outside groups’ access to state voter database: Passed 21 to 15 in the Senate

To restrict access to the state's qualified voter file (QVF) database to the Secretary of State office and other authorized election officials, local and county election clerks, and state employees or vendors who do maintenance and security work on the QVF. The bill would remove a provision authorizing access by a “designated voter registration agency.” The Senate also passed House Bill 4838 by the same margin, which would have banned connecting the electronic poll book at election precincts from being connected to the internet on election day. Note: Both bills were vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Oct. 3.

Presidents can make a lot of policy changes without the consent of Congress. They can issue executive orders. They have discretion in how they, and executive agencies, administer the law. And they can change the rules about the programs they administer. To talk about one such rule change, I spoke with Jennifer Butler, senior policy advisor at the State Policy Network, about a rule that she helped create during the Trump administration and is now being reconsidered in the Biden administration.

Has there ever been a time when we have had to weigh so much science in our day-to-day lives? Today’s most prominent science-related issues are COVID-19 and climate change, but many other things are also important to us: medications, nutrition, travel safety, protecting the Great Lakes, etc. Not everyone is going to agree on what the science says about these issues, so how can we make the best decisions?

“Michigan voters favor investment in children even if taxes increase,” a recent headline blares. The Chalkbeat story linked a pair of recent voter surveys to an advocacy group’s report that the state’s public schools need more money to succeed.

But gathering opinion on whether taxpayers should pay more means little without a clear understanding of how much the state’s public schools already take in, not to mention how those moneys are being used. And limiting “investment in children” to dollars spent on the current K-12 school system reveals a misplaced priority that values a particular means of education over the ends. Focusing on conventional public schools leaves behind many students, and even more so during the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Detroit News on Sept. 29, 2021.

The COVID era of remote instruction left many young people lonely and isolated, inflicting extra grief as many students lost motivation to learn. Reopened school buildings helped improve their outlook and offered hope of catching up academically and rebuilding relationships. But students and schools still face choppy waters, navigating conflicts over masks and other pandemic-related protocols.

If you want to provide hair, skin or nail services in Michigan as a cosmetologist, it requires a $200 fee, passing an exam and taking more than 1,500 hours of education and training. That’s much more than the state requires of child care workers, 25 times more training than it mandates for carpenters or roofers and 250 times more than the minimum standard for auto mechanics.

Michigan lawmakers ought to lower the state’s tax rates. It would be good for residents, good for the economy and — with the state’s revenue growth — it is affordable to lawmakers.

State taxes continue to collect more from taxpayers, despite the pandemic. Lawmakers will spend much more than they did before 2020, even without counting extraordinary federal support of the state budget. The latest budget spends $3.6 billion more in state taxes and fees than it did in the year before the pandemic, a 10.4% increase.

Today, the public comment period closed on a new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If adopted, this rule would reauthorize union’s ability to skim dues from Medicaid payments used to pay for home health care workers.

It was the Mackinac Center that originally discovered what came to be called the “dues skim” in Michigan. Before 2012, the SEIU had quietly worked with the Granholm administration to establish a state agency, known as the Michigan Quality Community Care Council, which would act as the putative employer of home health care workers. These workers, who often rely on Medicaid payments to provide care for their sick or disabled loved ones, are actually employed by the patient they care for. Despite this, the SEIU negotiated with the state agency as the caregivers’ so-called employer, after holding a unionization election in which fewer than 20% of affected caregivers voted. By 2013, the SEIU had successfully diverted over $34 million in funds, labeled “dues,” away from this vulnerable population.

Lansing politicians are nothing if not persistent. Their latest gambit is a corporate handout bill that would allow corporations — mostly very large multinational conglomerates — to keep up to 100% of the personal income taxes of employees hired as part of promises they make to the state.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Detroit News on September 18, 2021.

Keyon Harrison, an African American 16-year-old, was doing nothing wrong as he walked home from school on a spring day in Grand Rapids. But a police officer thought he looked “suspicious” — so the officer stopped Harrison, questioned, searched him and took his photograph and fingerprints.

Parents struggled to find adequate learning opportunities for their children after the COVID-19 pandemic forced public schools to shut down in early 2020. To talk about this situation, and whether these frustrations will lead to changes in education policy, I spoke with my colleague Ben DeGrow for the Overton Window podcast.

When it comes to environmental issues, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “MI New Economy” plan is doomed to fail because it puts a misguided and expensive green agenda ahead of the health and well-being of people.

Whitmer’s plan relies on three main pillars: “Growing the Middle Class,” “Supporting Small Business” and “Building Strong Communities.” Michigan residents, she says, “deserve to live in vibrant communities with the kinds of services and amenities associated with a high standard of living.”

Michigan hospitals say they have a shortage of nurses, which is making it harder to fight COVID-19. Unfortunately, Gov. Whitmer has made it harder for nurses to get employed and do work they are qualified for.

The Henry Ford Health System says the number of job applicants has dropped at a time it has an increased need for new employees, including nurses. This has forced officials at the hospital system to trim 120 beds since they can’t find the staff. Nationally, the demand for intensive care nurses has nearly tripled.

As Michigan lawmakers wrap up the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, it’s worth looking at fiscal trends. The worst that was expected didn’t happen, and lawmakers have resources to accomplish a lot of their priorities with the extra cash they have at hand. Also, they can lower tax burdens if they want.

Student learning has taken a big hit during the pandemic, especially for kids in low-income communities. While federal officials wager that a huge influx of cash will turn things around, Michigan’s largest school district is doubling down on old spending patterns. Its approach figures to deepen future fiscal challenges more than boost academic achievement.

After a down year, Michigan school districts seek to boost enrollment. They will have to keep schoolhouse doors open, at least into October, to collect the funds that come along with students.

According to The Detroit News, leaders of the Detroit Public Schools Community District are looking to fill classroom seats with 2,000 more students than fall 2020. Months before the pandemic started, the state’s largest district registered its highest enrollment since 2011-12, only to lose students at the start of last school year.

As part of the state’s pandemic response, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer started a new program that pays for the tuition of frontline health care workers who want to go to community college. Lawmakers are also looking to create and expand other programs aimed at boosting people’s job credentials. Regardless of how much gets spent and how many programs are created, job training programs are an idea from a political well that never runs dry.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on July 31, 2021. 

New York City, Detroit and Honolulu don’t share much in common, but all three essentially ban short-term rentals, such as those supplied through Airbnb and VRBO. In Michigan, more than a dozen cities make short-term rentals in residential zones illegal. One county in the state’s Upper Peninsula even bans short-term camping, outlawing property owners from accepting payment from someone camping on their vacant land.

Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill to authorize $300 million in additional business subsidies, which is intended to attract more companies to Michigan and compete with other states. This is the wrong way to compete, however. Lawmakers should grow the economy by improving the business climate and fostering a better quality of life in the state, not by offering the largest subsidy checks.

Don’t Look Back, Ohio