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Governor Gretchen Whitmer yesterday released her proposed $61.9 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2021. It calls for an increase in spending over 2020 for the state’s Pure Michigan tourism subsidy program and the line item that funds the Michigan Business Development Program. The former finances out-of-state advertising (among other items) to lure tourists to the Great Lake State. The latter is a corporate handout program that gives cash grants and loans chosen by state bureaucrats.

Gov. Whitmer intends to weaken a 2016 law that could hold back thousands of third-graders with serious reading struggles. This ignores a promising approach to getting these students the resources they need that doesn’t rely on socially promoting kids who can’t read. State leaders should stick with the law, while also focusing on another major piece of the literacy puzzle: teacher preparation.

My wife and I are going out on a date tonight. Our three kids — ages seven, five and two — will be left at home behind in an unregulated facility (our house) and cared for by an unlicensed practitioner (a teenage babysitter).

Sound scary? Or just a normal part of life, where we make judgment calls like this every day?

Michigan House Republicans, especially House Speaker Lee Chatfield, want to spend more on road repair without raising taxes. And to do this, they want to direct the sales tax that gets levied on fuel to road repair. They argue that the money people pay at the pump should go to fix roads. Opponents argue that this will hurt public schools, the primary beneficiary of sales tax revenue. But reprioritizing this revenue doesn’t have to lead to reduced school spending.

Some media are touting a new report as a road map to make Michigan school funding fairer. Yet the exorbitant price tag of their proposals and the exaggerated research claims used to justify them deserve more attention.

The real headline on Ed Trust-Midwest’s “Michigan School Funding: Crisis and Opportunity” should be that it ups the ante on popular prescriptions for more K-12 spending. Meanwhile, news accounts echoed the opening sentence of the group’s release, that “Michigan is now in the bottom five states nationwide for equitable school funding.” In other words, school districts with the fewest low-income students tend to receive more money than districts with higher poverty rates.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Detroit News on January 16, 2020. 

Michigan revenue estimators believe that the state treasury will end the fiscal year with around $900 million left in the bank. Lawmakers are going to talk about what to do with some of this surplus, and other topics, as they start to budget for the next year. And they’re going to find that they have more to spend as economic growth continues to drive tax collections higher.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is a quote from philosopher George Santayana. States like Michigan, Massachusetts, Vermont, and some local units of government are taking up prohibitions on flavored products, such as electronic cigarettes, menthol cigarettes or other flavored products. As they do so, we wonder how many elected officials remember, or care to remember, lessons about efforts to prohibit alcohol, or even marijuana. They are manifold, and lawmakers should ponder them before charging ahead.

In response to news reports that an increasing number of school districts are using long-term substitute teachers, a poll claims that the vast majority of Michigan residents want people to have more training before being able to teach. But mandating certification is unlikely to help this perceived problem.

Lawmakers have taken a newfound interest in interstate compacts to eliminate business subsidies. A version has been introduced in New York, Florida, New Hampshire, Hawaii and West Virginia. And there is another that covers Kansas City. It’s good that there are multiple approaches being taken, and there are lessons to be learned from the Kansas City agreement.

The presidential election year gives Michigan school districts an extra opportunity to ask local voters to raise taxes to finance construction projects. The approach of that extra election date highlights the need for a more inclusive and transparent election process.

Environmental issues sit at the top of many Michigander’s list of policy priorities for 2020. But discussions about electric vehicles, solar panels, climate change, animal rights and many other issues are often emotionally charged, and can easily morph into ideological warfare, with both sides digging in and resorting to lobbing rhetorical bombs at each other. Is there room for rational debate in 2020?

A recent article says the metrics people generally use to measure the state of the economy are wrong and suggests Michiganders are worse off today than they were during the depths of the “Lost Decade,” roughly defined as 2000-2009. But this argument relies on an analysis that misrepresents both the real state of the economy and the well-being of residents.

After a year-long stalemate in the legislative debate on road funding, some people are again suggesting that taking on more debt could improve road conditions. While this can improve roads now, it does so at the expense of the future.

Michigan’s road debts get paid off with revenue that would otherwise go to road repair. The state already carries $1.1 billion in transportation debts, all of which originated more than nine years ago. The state paid $161 million on its road debts last year, financed with federal grants and transportation funds, money which could have been used to pay for current road repairs instead.

State budget officials estimate that Michigan tax and fee collections will rise in the upcoming fiscal year and the next one. The question now is whether lawmakers will use the extra money to fund what appears to be their highest shared priority: increased road repair spending. Last year’s stalemate over state road spending and taxes complicates current efforts to direct this growing revenue to roads.

Elected officials in Southeast Michigan want to put another tax hike on the ballot to pay for more bus lines or whatever else they may fit into their tax-and-spend transit plan. They also want state lawmakers to change some of the rules about funding transit before they seek to get it approved. Transit supporters should instead try to find out how to make the transit they already have work instead of asking for more money.

Michigan began 2020 without its taxpayer-funded Pure Michigan advertising campaign, having zeroed it out during last year’s budget debate. The appropriation should remain at zero as the Pure Michigan program is demonstrably ineffective, expensive and unfair.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on December 13, 2019.

Michigan’s crime rate presently sits at a 50-year low and its prison population at a 20-year low. So it should follow that the state’s jail population also should be declining, as it has nationally since 2008. Instead, Michigan’s jail population has tripled since the 1980s — with no sign of abating.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on December 11, 2019. 

At this time of year, it’s normal for people to look back and consider the many blessings they enjoy in their lives. There’s no escaping the fact that the people of this nation are richly blessed.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on December 20, 2019.

Florida’s state government is suing Planet Hollywood, arguing that it paid the company to create jobs that never appeared and it wants its money back. Clawbacks such as this one are a regular feature of state deals with companies, and states tend to get repaid without court intervention. The bigger question is why state lawmakers around the country think they need to offer corporate handouts in the first place.

Presidential election season must be heading into full swing. Left-leaning activists are crafting messages to persuade fellow Democrats about how to perceive certain issues in choosing a candidate. Education is no exception.

In a recent example, podcaster Jennifer Berkshire recently tried to downplay racial divisions within the Democratic Party over charter schools. Her Dec. 30 column for The Nation frames the issue as “liberals vs. moderates,” which misses both the plight of real students and families and the broad support for educational options from minorities.

While there were important laws passed in the statehouse in 2019, what didn’t get passed was just as noteworthy. There was no large tax increase, despite it being governor’s highest priority. There was less road funding in the budget, despite a consensus between legislators and the governor that that the state ought to spend more on road repairs. This was also a light year for business subsidies, and our business subsidy scorecard — which records legislators’ votes on such matters — contains only one small addition.

Miladis Salgado is a Florida mom who had $15,000 seized and forfeited by the federal government. But she was never even charged with criminal activity. For two years, she fought in court and eventually had her property returned.

Interest groups will increasingly make their case about why they like or dislike different candidates as the 2020 election approaches. Perhaps this is why union officials have repeatedly claimed that the 2017 tax reform package hurts their members. But it isn’t true: Almost everyone got a tax cut.