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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.

Some state and national leaders have questioned funding levels for charter public schools. But cutting funds for charter schools like those in Detroit would only widen the funding gap between them and neighboring school districts.

A new study from the University of Arkansas finds that, in 2017-18, Detroit charter schools took in 29% less revenue per student, on average, than the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Only a quarter of the gap is explained by extra costs the district must pay to teach more special education students. As large as Detroit’s gap is, 11 of the 18 U.S. cities in the national study revealed even greater funding inequities between charter and district-run schools.

The Great Lake State isn’t so great, according to the most recent rankings of economic freedom by the Canada-based Fraser Institute. In its annual study, “Economic Freedom of North America,” Michigan ranks 31st among U.S. states, which means we’re still aspiring just to be average. The institute also ranks 10 Canadian provinces and 32 Mexican states, using data through 2018.

An assessment by Multistate Associates, a state and local government relations firm, says that there is a “significant risk” that Michigan raises taxes in 2021.

Policymakers responding to the serious health concerns posed by COVID-19 are still obliged to operate within the bounds of our American system of government. This is why the Mackinac Center filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, challenging the governor’s expansive use of emergency powers. The successful lawsuit involved two claims. The first was that the governor illegally issued executive orders without the legislative approval required by a 1976 law. The second was that the governor violated the separation of powers doctrine through inappropriately using a law from 1945. The court agreed with both claims and ruled that the governor violated state law and the Michigan Constitution.

The Legislature had limited sessions this week with no roll call votes of general interest. Rather than votes, this Roll Call Report describes some recent constitutional amendment proposals of general interest.

Senate Joint Resolution Q: Ban banning state employees from communicating with a legislator

Michigan residents might be confused about why the state spends less on road funding, even though it elected a governor whose primary campaign promise was to fix roads.

Lawmakers had regularly increased road funding prior to her governorship. Spending on road funding, excluding federal transfers, increased from $2.0 billion to $3.6 billion between fiscal years 2010-11 and 2018-19, a 62% increase when adjusted for inflation. Part of the increase came from a $600 million tax hike in 2015.

A new report on local government financing in Michigan recommends giving local governments more money from taxpayers. But it is misleading, incomplete and never gets around to addressing the most important problems facing local governments.

In addition to being married to someone who must be transient, military spouses face major employment challenges. More than one-third work in fields that require a state-mandated license, many of which do not transfer across state lines.

Senate Bill 1185: Restrict epidemic-related lawsuits against medical service providers: Passed 21 to 13 in the Senate

To establish in law that, “a health care provider or facility that provides health care services in support of this state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic is not liable for an injury (or) death sustained by reason of those services, regardless of how, under what circumstances, or by what cause those injuries are sustained, unless it is established that the provision of the services constituted willful misconduct, gross negligence, intentional and willful criminal misconduct, or intentional infliction of harm by the health care provider or health care facility.” This liability exemption would apply only after March 9, 2020 and before July 15, 2020.

There’s a problem with public pensions in this country, but it’s not the one people think of. The political right criticizes generous rules that allow public servants to retire early and collect big checks. The left is more sympathetic to public workers, but it tends to wave away the major problem: It disregards the debts that taxpayers have racked up in pension systems. This has been bad for everyone involved. Fortunately, lawmakers have been making progress at fixing this situation.

The following seems to perfectly describe the state of COVID-19 in Michigan: “The number of daily new cases increases by a constant rate every day, which leads to an increasingly accelerating case curve. If a community remains in this phase for an extended period of time, healthcare facilities could quickly be overwhelmed.”

Since the Legislature did not meet in session this week, here are some key votes by the 2019-2020 Michigan Legislature

Senate Bill 1: Reform auto insurance: Passed 34 to 4 in the Senate on May 24, 2019; Passed 94 to 15 in the House on May 24, 2019

In August, the Mackinac Center released a study on the effectiveness of economic development programs in Michigan. While doing research for it, I was reminded of how often business “winners” turn out to be losers in the marketplace. I was also reminded of the odd choices state bureaucrats sometimes make.

The state offers taxpayers’ money to select businesses in an attempt to create jobs. It’s an ineffective way to generate broad economic growth, and it’s unfair to the business that don’t get special favors. Thankfully, lawmakers are spending much less than they used to, though it’s still part of the state budget. They’ve approved $79.8 million worth of additional business subsidies for the current fiscal year.

During an election year in which politicians are in full campaign mode, I would not normally look twice at one of their high-profile pronouncements. After all, we are now in the “silly season” for dramatic politics. Last week, however, the White House got my attention, as it marked the one-year anniversary of the Governors’ Initiative on Regulatory Innovation, a year-old initiative to encourage state and local regulatory reforms broadly similar to those adopted by the Trump administration.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Detroit News on October 21, 2020. 

Editor's Note: This article was first published in Bridge Michigan on October 23, 2020. 

Nearly every American owns a cellphone that can track their every movement and store sensitive information. But this convenience doesn’t mean Michiganders give up their expectation of privacy. On Nov. 3, voters have a chance to ensure that our right to privacy in digital matters is respected by law enforcement when they vote on Proposal 2.

When it comes to assessing the job that teachers are doing, a supervisor’s discretion should mean something, but it shouldn’t mean everything.

Michigan has struggled for years to get an effective educator evaluation system off the ground, but a misguided package of bills in Lansing would take a step backwards. Senate Bills 1176 and 1177 would completely eliminate student academic growth as a factor in rating teachers and principals, leaving supervisors with almost-exclusive discretion to rate them. The bills will be up for consideration during the lame-duck session that follows the upcoming Nov. 3 election.

What’s it called if you bail someone out who’s not in trouble?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has asked the federal government to give states more money as part of an additional pandemic relief spending deal. Yet the state budget has increased — both despite the pandemic and because of it. Spending is up despite the pandemic because revenue has recovered. And it’s up because of the pandemic, since federal relief efforts have put much more into the state budget than the state lost in tax revenue.

In this pandemic year, more Michigan parents are seeking alternatives to their children’s schooling routines than could have been imagined a year ago. Though it’s not yet clear just how many parents have voted with their feet, new evidence suggests that thousands fewer are sending their children to the local district to start their K-12 careers.