The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

According to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, the rates of accidents, injuries, and fatalities on Michigan's roads have been decreasing for decades. Improved pavement conditions will make the roads safer, but drivers should feel at ease that transportation is less risky than it used to be.

The highway safety office reports that vehicle accidents are at all-time lows. There were 289,061 crashes in Michigan in 2013, when drivers traveled 95 billion miles on Michigan roads. Thus, there were three crashes per million miles traveled. Ten years ago, it was 3.9 crashes per million. Ten years before that it was 4.2 crashes per million. Ten years before that it was 4.7 crashes per million. Before that, it was even worse. (See the chart below.)

Fewer accidents mean fewer injuries on the roads. There are 0.7 injuries per million vehicle miles in 2013, a 53-percent reduction from 1993.

Deaths from road accidents have steadily decreased as well, with one fatality for every 100 million miles traveled. The state has not yet release the number of vehicle miles traveled in 2014, but the number of deaths in road accidents in 2014 was the lowest in a generation.

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When considering only at passenger cars and trucks, the situation is even better. The figures above include motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians. For just cars and trucks, deaths per 100 million vehicle miles is less than half of what it was in 1995.

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Aside from the quality of pavement, other factors contribute to road accidents: According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency, 27 percent of road fatalities in Michigan involved a drunk driver and 7 percent involved motorcyclists riding without a helmet.

The May 5 vote on Proposal 1 has many talking about road safety. Road conditions are a relevant factor, and the state certainly should not wait for safety rates to worsen before addressing necessary road repairs.  

In addition to raising taxes to spend more on the roads, the proposal makes a number of other changes to the Michigan Constitution and state statutes.

Improved road quality may lower these numbers even further and deteriorating roads would be detrimental to safety. Voters may want to shore up further gains through road improvements, but should feel comfortable that traffic safety trends continue to improve.

LaTanya Dorsey is a mother who sends her daughter to a public charter school in Eastpointe. Her daughter is on the honor roll and doing very well.

Dorsey didn't expect to have a say in where her daughter went to school.

“Usually, it's the district that you're in is the school that you would have to attend,” Dorsey said. “That kind of surprised me — that I did have a choice to send her to another school, so I was real grateful for that.”

Dorsey said that parental choice is critical to helping students attend a school that is the best fit for their needs. It doesn't make much sense, she said, to only use a child's home address to determine where he or she goes to school.

“We know what's best for our kids,” Dorsey said. “I know what's best for my daughter, and the school she attends is a great school.”

To meet more Detroit-area parents who value school choice, visit http://www.mackinac.org/ourchoice.

Policy Analyst Jarrett Skorup and Assistant Director of Fiscal Policy James Hohman explain in an MLive.com column why the state should get out of the business of subsidizing film production companies.

Skorup and Hohman note:

Despite handing out nearly $500 million over the years, the program has failed to create a sustainable film industry in Michigan. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are fewer film jobs in Michigan today (1,561) then when the program began in 2008 (1,663). In 2013, there were zero full-time jobs created by these subsidies, according to the latest report from the Michigan Film Office.

Over the years, the program has taken $131 from each household in Michigan and given it mostly to Hollywood film producers and studios. And while film producers certainly spend some of that money here in Michigan, taxpayers never come out ahead. The Senate Fiscal Agency found in 2010 that the program returned only 11 cents on the dollar. That's a poor investment.

Independent research on these types of programs is almost unanimous: Film subsidies just don't work. The fiscally conservative Tax Foundation says they "are costly and fail to live up to their promises." The left-of-center Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says movie production incentives are "a classic race to the bottom" with the economic benefits "more fiction than fact." The studies favoring these programs are usually sponsored by the film industry.

Mackinac Center experts have written repeatedly about how Michigan's Film Incentive Program fails to provide any benefits to taxpayers.

An Associated Press story about Proposal 1, the May 5 sales and gas tax ballot question,  prominently features Mackinac Center research. From the article:

The state sales tax would go up a penny on the dollar. The gasoline tax would rise with inflation, likely more. The annual vehicle registration tax would be higher.

If voters approve a measure on Michigan's May 5 ballot to improve roads and bridges, the $2.1 billion tax hike would average $545 per household in 2016 — or $45 a month — according to calculations by The Associated Press. The per-household tax increase would fall to $474, or $40 per month, in 2017 when low- to moderate-income residents become eligible for a larger tax credit under Proposal 1.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Midland, says it is tough to estimate Proposal 1's impact on a typical resident because the measure has so many components. The group's estimated increased tax burden is $477 to $525 per household, with Earned Income Tax Credit recipients receiving an average $69 tax cut.

The story was featured in the following news sources: Detroit News, Lansing State Journal, WXYZ, Oakland Press, Crain’s Detroit Business, Grand Haven Tribune, Monroe News, Midland Daily News, and elsewhere around the country.

Other stories about our work and the study have recently appeared on MLive, MI NBC News, WILX, WHTC, and the Port Huron Times Herald.

To see more information about Proposal 1, go here.

April 10, 2015, MichiganVotes Weekly Roll Call

Hospital “prices,” cigarette taxes, unions, monopolies and more

Now with one click you can approve or disapprove of key votes by your legislators using the VoteSpotter smart phone app. Visit votespotter.com and download VoteSpotter today!

The House and Senate are on a two-week spring break. Therefore, this report contains several recently introduced bills of interest.


Senate Bill 147: Require hospitals to post their “prices”

Introduced by Sen. Joe Hune (R), to require hospitals to place on their website or make available in other ways a copy of their “charge description master,” defined as “a uniform schedule of charges represented by the hospital as its gross billed charge for a given service or item, regardless of payer type.” Note: Most hospital prices are negotiated with insurers and government agencies, and are not based on market competition. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 148: Cut cigarette tax

Introduced by Sen. Joe Hune (R), to cut the state cigarette tax in half, from $2 per pack to $1. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 151: Repeal deadline on prisoner DNA evidence appeals

Introduced by Sen. Steve Bieda (D), to repeal a Jan. 1, 2016 deadline for a prisoner to appeal his or her conviction on the basis of evidence generated by new DNA testing technology. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 156: Repeal FDA approved drug lawsuit ban

Introduced by Sen. Steve Bieda (D), to allow product liability lawsuits against drug companies for drugs that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Under a 1995 Michigan tort reform law such lawsuits are prohibited unless a company intentionally used fraud or bribery to gain approval for a drug. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 170: Authorize high school “STEM” diploma

Introduced by Sen. John Proos (R), to authorize granting a high school diploma “endorsement” to a student who completes a specified number of science, technology, engineering and math courses (STEM). Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 172: Require government “morning after” pill information campaign

Introduced by Sen. Bert Johnson (D), to require the state health department to disseminate specified information about “emergency contraceptives” (the “morning after” pill). Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 181 and House Bill 4283: Extend open records law to legislators

Introduced by Sen. Steve Bieda (D) and Rep. Brandon Dillon (D), respectively, to repeal the exemptions from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act for records in the possession of legislators and their staff. The bills do not exempt communications to legislators from constituents. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4261: Ban “open carry” in concealed pistol “gun free zones”

Introduced by Rep. Andy Schor (D), to ban “open carry” of firearms in “gun free zones” specified in the state concealed pistol license law, which include schools, day care centers, stadiums, arenas, theaters, bars, churches, college dorms and classrooms, hospitals, casinos and courts. Also, to add public libraries to this list. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4291: Impose recycling mandate on cell phone and tablet makers

Introduced by Rep. Leslie Love (D), to expand a 2008 law that imposed a new regulatory regime mandating that manufacturers of computers and related equipment take back used units and recycle the parts, so that it also applies to cell phones and tablet computers. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4298: Give big electric utilities a monopoly on generation

Introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R), to repeal a law that authorizes competition for 10 percent of electric utilities’ customer base. This would essentially restore the complete monopolies enjoyed by large utilities before a broad customer choice and competition regime was authorized by a 2000 law, which in 2008 was restricted to the current limit of 10 percent of their markets. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4311: Repeal government unions’ duty to represent non-members

Introduced by Rep. Gary Glenn (R), to establish that government employee unions have no duty to represent workers who have elected not to pay union dues or fees, as permitted under the state’s right to work law. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4333: Prohibit corporate subsidy deal modifications

Introduced by Rep. Lee Chatfield (R), to prohibit state officials from modifying corporate tax break and subsidy deals granted to particular businesses under a Michigan Economic Growth Authority law, which was repealed in 2011. The bill follows revelations that officials continue to amend and modify these deals in ways that may increase the size of a recently disclosed $10 billion liability they have generated. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

Policy analyst Jarrett Skorup recently spoke on the issue of civil asset forfeiture to the Birmingham Republican Women’s Club. The event also featured Rep. Mike McCready, R-Bloomfield Hills, Regina Brim who is a local activist opposed to forfeiture, and Megan Noland, who represented the Oakland County sheriff’s office.

Civil asset forfeiture is the process of law enforcement agencies seizing the property of citizens who have not been charged with a crime.

Mackinac Center analysts have called for reforming Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture laws for many years. Michigan Capitol Confidential, our daily news web site, and has recently featured stories that highlight some of the problems with this practice.

Amendment’s Effects on Higher Ed are Uncertain

Proposal 1 may offer more leeway in funding universities than intended

Most of the focus on Proposal 1 has been directed to its changes in the state’s fiscal policies, rather than a close look at its proposed constitutional changes. One issue demands further attention since its effects are unclear.

The constitutional amendments allow for a higher sales tax, earmark more money to the School Aid Fund and exempt road vehicle fuel from sales taxes. But they also remove “higher education” from the list of acceptable uses of the SAF while adding community colleges and some programs to the acceptable uses of the that fund. Here is this section of the proposed amendment:

There shall be established a state school aid fund which shall be used exclusively for aid to school districts, higher education, PUBLIC COMMUNITY COLLEGES, PUBLIC CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS, SCHOLARSHIPS FOR STUDENTS ATTENDING EITHER PUBLIC COMMUNITY COLLEGES OR PUBLIC CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS, and school employees’ retirement systems, as provided by law.

As I mentioned in my brief, this has some fiscal consequences. The state has been spending $200 million in school aid fund money in the state higher education budget and this would likely have to stop if the amendment is approved. There are small amounts of general fund money in the state’s school aid budget that may mitigate this new prohibition.

Future policymakers could still devote money from the SAF to the state’s public universities through possible loopholes in the language.

A number of state universities still participate in the school employees’ retirement system, which remains an acceptable place to devote SAF dollars. The state could contribute to these universities by directly paying for the retirement contributions of those participating institutions.

Policymakers could even expand on this practice by allowing university employees to participate in the school employees’ retirement system. Or it could create a new “school employees’ retirement system” with state university participation and provide SAF money for participating employers.

This amendment also changes this section of the constitution from naming the kinds of institutions that can receive SAF money to naming uses for the money. The state’s public universities could receive SAF money for scholarships for students in career and technical education programs, or they could set up career and technical education programs themselves.

Public universities may even make the case that they are fundamentally in the business of providing career and technical education. After all, while most universities remain liberal arts institutions, career preparation remains their primary selling point to both prospective students and to the Legislature when asking for state money.

Judicial interpretation of our state constitution is subject to different standards than those used for regular statutes. The justices would rely more on a normal citizen’s interpretation of the language rather than the often arcane interplay of existing statutes. On that standard, there seems to be more leeway for funding the state’s public universities than policymakers may have intended.

Detroit Coalition Plan Would Lead to More Schools Outside of Detroit

Restricting choice could lead to more students leaving Detroit

The River Rouge School District buses students out of Detroit to attend its schools. This makes financial sense for the district: More than 400 River Rouge students live in Detroit and attend the district through the state's Schools of Choice program. These are families who have chosen to leave their neighborhood school.

An estimated 17,000 Detroit students leave the city to attend public charter schools outside its city limits. Some charter schools bus students out, like River Rouge. Conner Creek Academy, located in Roseville, buses in students from Detroit and Highland Park.

Recently, a coalition of Detroit interest groups released a proposal to severely limit the city’s educational choices for parents. It's not hard to imagine an acceleration of the types of arrangements described above if this proposal is implemented.

Geographically specific restrictions aimed at preventing people from improving their livelihoods often yield unintended consequences:

These behaviors occur because people realize they can get around a costly burden by simply crossing an artificial geographic boundary.

The same can be expected if a Detroit coalition's proposed regulation of educational choice is successful. That's because several of the coalition's proposals will place an undue burden on schools operating in the city of Detroit — a burden schools can avoid by simply locating outside city boundaries.

A likely result will be that fewer schools will open in the city itself, and more schools will open right on the suburban boundary, perhaps offering to bus out Detroit students. For those who might doubt this, consider the broad regulation of Detroit conventional and charter public schools the coalition is proposing.

The coalition suggests creating a powerful commission that can choose whether a new school will be allowed to open within city limits. This commission will even have the power to choose where new schools can be opened.

The coalition reasons that there are too many schools in some parts of Detroit and too few in others. These circumstances, proponents argue, require a commission to determine the best location for new schools. This argument ignores the rigorous work many charter schools undertake to find the best location for a school. Charter schools may even consider whether a nearby school has a track record of failing its students when choosing where to locate.

Consider the new costs, risks, and timeline of opening a school in Detroit under the coalition's plan: Even if a school has been authorized by a public university, community college or school district, it will have to go through another series of approvals with a new Detroit commission, which could stop the school’s already well-developed plans in their tracks.

The school will also have to consider the risk of being told it may not operate in the location it deems best to serve the most students. The new powerful commission, viewing some Detroit neighborhoods as having “too many” schools, could require a new school to operate at a different location — one that is more costly and limits a school’s ability to attract new students. All of these new requirements will take more time, and could delay the opening of a school by months, or even years.

If opening a charter school in Detroit becomes more costly, more risky, and takes more time than opening a charter school just outside the city boundaries, all else equal, schools will opt for a less costly, less risky, and less time-intensive option: They will open outside of Detroit, and may offer transportation to Detroit students.

The coalition's plan may very well have the unintended consequence of increasing the number of families leaving Detroit for better educational options.

April 3, 2015, MichiganVotes Weekly Roll Call

New bills cover marijuana, mandates, police cameras and more

Now with one click you can approve or disapprove of key votes by your legislators using the VoteSpotter smart phone app. Visit votespotter.com and download VoteSpotter today!

The House and Senate are on a two-week spring break. Therefore, this report contains several recently introduced bills of interest.


Senate Bill 80: Decriminalize marijuana

Introduced by Sen. Coleman Young II (D), to eliminate criminal sanctions for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, and instead authorize civil fines of $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second, and $100 for subsequent offenses. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 90: Create African-American Affairs Commission

Introduced by Sen. Rick Jones (R), to create a government African-American Affairs Commission, with the mission of developing “a unified policy and plan of action to serve the needs of African-Americans in this state.” Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 97: Require agencies disclose federal aid requests to Legislature

Introduced by Sen. Mike Shirkey (R), to require state agencies that apply for any form of federal or other financial assistance to notify the Legislature within 10 days, including any conditions or stipulations associated. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 101 and House Bill 4167: Mandate employers provide paid sick leave

Introduced by Sen. Jim Ananich (D) Rep. Stephanie Chang (D), respectively, to mandate that employers must grant employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours annually for small businesses, and 72 hours annually for larger employers. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 102: Give new school employees 401(k), not pensions

Introduced by Sen. Phil Pavlov (R), to close the current “defined benefit” pension system to new school employees hired starting July 1, 2015, and instead provide 401(k) benefits. Employees could contribute up to 5 percent of salary to their account, and the local school district would have to contribute an amount equal to 80 percent of this. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 143 and House Bill 4206: Impose regulations and mandates on for-profit mothers milk banks

Introduced by Sen. David Knezek (D) Rep. Erika Geiss (D), respectively, to impose a range of regulations, restrictions and mandates on “for-profit human breast milk banks, companies, and cooperatives,” but not on non-profit entities that provide a similar service. Among other things the bill would mandate that for-profit service give half the milk they collect to hospitals and non-profit providers of this service. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4219: Give some Detroit drug crime seizure proceeds to “community organizations”

Introduced by Rep. Harvey Santana (D), to mandate that 5 percent of the proceeds from the sale of property seized in Detroit drug raids and arrests be given to “community organizations” in the city. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4226: Expand technology business subsidies

Introduced by Rep. Daniela Garcia (R), to increase from three to nine the number of areas in which “certified technology parks” (previously dubbed “smart zones”) are permitted to “capture” school taxes. These entities collect the extra local property tax revenue that (hopefully) results from property value increases generated by their selective subsidies and projects, and use it to repay debt incurred to provide them. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4229: Mandate police body cameras

Introduced by Rep. Rose Mary Robinson (D), to require uniformed law enforcement officers to wear a continuously-activated body camera while on duty, with various exceptions specified in the bill. The bill also prescribes rules for how long recordings must be kept and for erasing them, prohibits agencies from using facial recognition programs with the captured images, and more. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4232: Require police shooting reports

Introduced by Rep. Alberta Tinsley Talabi (D), to require the state Department of Civil Rights to investigate and give a report to the Legislature and the employing agency whenever a law enforcement officer is responsible for the death of an individual who belonged to “a group or had a characteristic that has been the subject of past discriminatory practices.” Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4240: Place 1st and 2nd Amendment plaques on Capitol grounds

Introduced by Rep. Martin Howrylak (R), to require plaques honoring the First and Second Amendments on the state Capitol grounds. Like several previous bills, the right to bear arms plaque would be one created by the “Brass Roots” organization in 1994. This bill adds an invitation for “an organization with a history of advocating for First Amendment rights” to provide a First Amendment plaque, and suggests the American Civil Liberties Union, Michigan Press Association, League of Women Voters, American Libraries Association and some others. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4261: Ban “open carry” in prohibited concealed pistol carry areas

Introduced by Rep. Andy Schor (D), to ban “open carry” (versus concealed carry) of firearms in “gun free zones” specified in the state concealed pistol license law, which includes schools, day care centers, stadiums, arenas, theaters, bars, churches, college dorms and classrooms, hospitals, casinos, and courts. Also, to add public libraries to this list. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

Read This: FEE Interview With Larry Reed

Former Mackinac Center president shares stories of his world travels

Our friends at the Foundation for Economic Education recently published an interview with their current president, Lawrence W. Reed. Friends of the Mackinac Center will know Larry as the first president of this organization. He currently is president emeritus at the Center and a member of our Board of Scholars.

The interview is fascinating and highly recommended. Larry tells several stories about his travels around the country and world. He's visited 49 states (just North Dakota left!) and an astonishing 81 countries. How he had the time and energy to build one of the nation's premier state-based, free-market think tanks and travel the world is beyond me.

Perhaps my favorite story has Larry and the Mackinac Center's late former senior vice president, Joe Overton, in the middle of a civil war in Mozambique:

In 1991, my late friend and then-senior vice president at the Mackinac Center Joe Overton and I flew at treetop level in broad daylight 150 miles into Mozambique from neighboring Malawi. We were there for a couple of weeks with the anti-communist rebels during the Mozambique civil war. The plane was piloted by a Christian missionary who knew where to go: a makeshift runway the guerrillas quickly camouflaged with small trees and brush. If the regime had known of our plans, it would have put MIGs in the air to shoot us down. A year later, we were back in Mozambique, courtesy of the regime itself, to see things from their perspective. We even had dinner with the president, Joaqhim Chissano, at the presidential palace. I asked him, “How are we to believe you’re no longer Marxist when the streets here in Maputo are named for thugs like Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Karl Marx, and Vladimir Lenin?” He replied with a smile, “We are going to change the names of the streets.” I don’t know that he ever did.

Well, I have some bad news for Larry. Using Google Maps, I confimed that those streets  can still be found in Maputo. But I'm sure Larry won't be too surprised at being misled by a politician. There's good news too, though, because I also found a supermarket at the corner of Avenida Karl Marx and Avenida Ho Chi Min. Even on streets named for communists, markets at work!

Read the rest of the interview here.