Regardless of which party controls Congress or the White House, the one thing that Washington politicians seem to agree on is the desire to spend more. Michigan’s state government has been a beneficiary of Washington’s excess.

The federal government showered states with money since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, both with special spending bills and by increasing spending through the normal federal budget process. State officials in Michigan expected to receive $23.1 billion from the federal government when they enacted the 2019-20 fiscal year budget.

Ryan Green and Austin Berg work at Iron Light and consult with advocates around the country to help them persuade people on policy issues. In 2020 they opposed a constitutional amendment to install a progressive income tax in Illinois, which voters rejected 53 to 47. Green also has a paper out, Using Persuasion to Win the Culture War, that lays out his approach. Green and Berg join me to discuss communications strategy on this week’s Overton Window podcast.

Using private companies to provide municipal water service is dangerous, claims progressive professor and author Robert Kuttner. “Privatized systems are typically less reliable, far more expensive, and prone to corrupt deal-making,” Kuttner writes in The American Prospect.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made clear her commitment to imposing electric vehicles on the state as part of her Mi Healthy Climate Plan pledge to “electrify vehicles and increase public transit.” The next step in her plan is to spend your tax dollars on electric vehicle chargers, whether you want them or not.

A campaign ad from U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin criticizes her opponent Tom Barrett, a state senator from Potterville, for voting against a $1 billion corporate welfare slush fund. “Thousands of jobs, gone,” is what she assumes would happen without the subsidies. She’s putting too much faith in this kind of favoritism, as many lawmakers do. Lawmakers should vote against ineffective and wasteful programs, and politicians stop confusing selective business subsidies with jobs.

Politicians promised Flint would be a one-time mistake, but similar concerns have appeared in Benton Harbor only a few years later.

The challenges of managing aging infrastructure led, in the words of one journal, to “oversights and missteps combined with inherent chemical conditions” that allowed a “historic water crisis” in Flint. Has government oversight now also failed the people of Benton Harbor?

Editor’s Note: This piece was first published in The Detroit News on Aug. 3, 2022.

Should higher education dollars be given to universities or to students?

Michigan lawmakers are thinking about doing both. It might sound like the kind of strategy that can make college more affordable for Michigan families. Don’t be fooled, though. In reality, student scholarships for higher education will do little good if lawmakers also fail to remedy the nonsensical and muddled way they give universities money.

Editor’s Note: This piece was first published in The Detroit News on June 23, 2022.

Michigan was embroiled in not one, but two emergencies in 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic, and the legal controversy over the governor’s use of executive power. Residents were subjected to legally questionable mandates and rules that were unprecedented, contentious and everchanging.

Politicians are sensitive to what people think about them, and they pay attention to what people say. Newspapers remain the place where people talk about state policy the most, and editorialists and columnists have a prominent platform to talk about state policy. I spoke with Ingrid Jacques about it for the Overton Window podcast. Jacques is a columnist at USA Today and a former editorialist at The Detroit News.

(This opinion piece was originally published in Bridge Michigan on Aug. 4, 2022.)

When plying for more money to hand out to a favored few businesses, supporters say that Michigan needs to catch up with the profligacy of other states.

“We know that Michigan is in competition with other states. We all know that,” Lansing Mayor Andy Schor told a committee hearing on corporate subsidies earlier this summer. “We know that there are other states out there that give direct dollars to local companies that go there. They will give out cash up front. We know that in the ideal world, we wouldn’t have to do any of this. But we are in competition and we have to win that competition for jobs and for investments.”

The advantage of serving many years in one position is having experience and perspective. One can draw on a reservoir of past events and look for themes. One recurring storyline in my nearly 30-year association with the Mackinac Center is that of tax cuts not delivered.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in one of the most important cases of its latest term, that presidents do not have the authority to address major questions not given to them by Congress. I spoke with Rich Samp, senior litigation counsel of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, about it for the Overton Window podcast. We covered what was going on in the case and how the court ruled. We also talked about what he and his colleagues are doing to reinstate the separation of powers doctrine to American politics.

“What is a recession?” the White House tweeted this week. The Biden administration provided an answer to its own question, but the answer did not include the most widely used definition of a recession: two consecutive quarters of inflation-adjusted (or “real”) negative Gross Domestic Product growth.

“Dying of an incurable attack of market forces.” This diagnosis of the nuclear energy industry comes from environmental activist Amory Lovins. Reuters agrees that nuclear power is financially untenable, claiming that bringing reactors online is “too slow, too expensive” as the market for non-carbon-emitting energy heats up.

“Well that was depressing!”

So said the first commenter after I spoke to a lunchtime gathering of Rotary Club members last week in Grand Ledge, MI. That response wasn’t totally unexpected: my presentation on the Seven Principles of Sound Energy Policy walked club members through the challenges we face as our utilities continue to design an increasingly fragile electric grid.

There has been a lot of recent coverage about unions making a comeback. Organized labor has been trying to organize media companies, Starbucks, Amazon, southern automakers and more.

The New York Times reports, “After decades of declining union membership, organized labor may be on the verge of a resurgence in the U.S.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s newly created Michigan Parents’ Council does not appear to require significant input from parents of schoolchildren in the state. The administration also omits political viewpoints and non-public school attendance from its list of diversity criteria.

Flint Community Schools’ Aug. 25, 2021, board of education meeting heard parents’ push back against a weeklong closure of the schools for “heat days.” This was the third time the district had closed classrooms in the three weeks since summer vacation, effectively exceeding the district’s allotted snow days for the year by Aug. 23.

Policy can be used to serve someone’s private interests under the guise that it provides public benefits. Occupational licensing often appears to protect the public from unprofessional service providers, but is too often actually about protecting some workers or industries from competition. It has been difficult to get lawmakers to agree, however, and there has been a proliferation of new occupational license requirements around the country. John Kay of the Pelican Institute, a free market think tank in Louisiana, recently helped pass an important law to put boundaries on what state licensing requirements can do. I speak with him about it for this week’s Overton Window podcast.

The city of Holland wants to take on $30 million in debt to finance a government-owned and run broadband network. On August 2, voters in the city will decide whether that’s a good idea.

Michigan Capitol Confidential reports that similar programs in other Michigan cities have repeatedly missed the mark. In Traverse City, the electric utility running the new broadband network predicted half of residents would sign up. Far fewer actually did, and revenue projections are off by more than 60%. In Marshall, despite the city’s network having an unfair advantage over private companies when it comes to regulations, the city took years to begin repaying the debt for the system and had to raise internet rates to cover operating costs.

Something rare and encouraging happened in the Michigan budget this year: State taxes raised record revenue, but legislators restrained themselves from spending all of it. The budget also included some items that point toward sounder financing in the future.

The Great Lakes are a central part of Michigan’s identity, so when they are threatened by pollution, Michiganders take notice. For decades, pollution and agricultural runoff have impacted the Lake Erie watershed.

The real problem of ag runoff has prompted tighter controls on fertilizer. Michigan restricted the use of phosphorous fertilizer on residential and commercial lawns in 2012. Communities around the country have imposed bans, and calls for federal restrictions are common. Despite the negatives associated with runoff, fertilizers are essential to keep food production up. There are also reasons for optimism about the status of Lake Erie and our other waterways.

Tanya Armitage-Edgeworth’s daughter struggled with her private elementary school’s pandemic transition to remote instruction. Receiving unhelpful pushback from school administration, the family looked elsewhere. Tanya did not see full-time homeschooling as a viable possibility, given her background and professional responsibilities. Regular schooling options didn’t offer what her daughter needed to get back on track.

General Motors is bidding farewell to four-year-degree requirements for some jobs in manufacturing and technology. The move comes courtesy of a recommendation from a diversity task force, which was commissioned to suggest ways to attract more diverse talent to the company.

One way to change the world is to work for a group that is changing the world. These organizations need good people, and their success or failure depends upon the people they hire. So recruiting people for those groups can make a big difference. Claire Kittle Dixon, executive director of Talent Market, talks with me about recruitment for the Overton Window podcast. She specializes in finding people to work in free market groups like the Mackinac Center.