Michigan lawmakers have $5.7 billion more to spend now that Congress approved its latest spending plans. But the federal government restricted the money from being used for some of the state’s highest priorities, and lawmakers will be challenged to find ways to spend the extra money. While some legislators may be tempted to make one-time payments to favored groups, they should rather use it to put the state government in a better financial position over the long term.

Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent, and politicians must, in turn, demand accountability from the organizations they fund with those dollars. One organization that receives taxpayer money, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, is noteworthy for refusing to come clean with the people. Just as bad, its habit of obfuscation and stonewalling lets politicians escape scrutiny when they make claims about the programs they fund. This Sunshine Week, it’s time to examine the state’s jobs agencies, and lawmakers should recognize that they are too secretive. Their work should be opened up to greater scrutiny.

While the last year of teaching and learning has looked different in many ways, Michigan’s school finance trends have mostly continued on the same upward path. Online schools that continued to educate during the pandemic fared worse than schools that shut down, then struggled with the transition to remote instruction. Intermediate school districts were among the biggest budgetary winners.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on February 27, 2021. 

States should reevaluate their laws that grant governors emergency powers. As a result of COVID-19, nearly every state has been under a declared emergency for nearly a year. These laws may have served states well in the early days of the pandemic, enabling governors to take immediate action to protect public safety. But they should not be used for such a prolonged period, because they tip the balance of power towards the executive branch and undermine legal protections of our constitutional rights.

Editor's Note: On the afternoon of March 16, the MEDC responded in part to our request. 

Last week, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy mailed a postcard to reporters and others calling attention to Sunshine Week and the secrecy of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The MEDC administers the state’s corporate and industrial welfare apparatus, including Travel Michigan, which oversees the state-subsidized Pure Michigan tourism marketing and branding campaigns.

“Whenever you mention it, you just kind of laugh, right?”

The initial reaction people have to goat milk was enough for Brett Kittredge to get public attention for the importance of freedom in commerce. Kittredge, then-director of communications for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, had learned that lawmakers in his state were thinking of banning the sale of goat milk, which was already severely restricted.

Senate Resolution 26: Authorize Senate lawsuit against governor for unlawful expenditures: Passed 20 to 14 in the Senate

To authorize the Senate Majority Leader to commence legal action on behalf of the Senate, challenging any action by the governor to spend money that has not been authorized in appropriation bills passed by the House and Senate. This relates to vetoes of provisions in House Bills 4047 and 4048 that would prohibit spending part of the state’s federal stimulus and coronavirus relief money unless two provision of two other bills are also signed into law (Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 4049). Those bills would transfer the authority of the state health department to close schools in an emergency to county health departments, and require legislative consent after 28 days to a governor's authority to maintain a state of emergency and issue executive orders. Under this resolution, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey would be authorized to sue the governor if the administration spends money without the legislative authorization required by the Michigan Constitution of 1963.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in The Hill on February 13, 2021. 

With federal lawmakers considering a $15-per-hour nationwide minimum wage, we’ve got a new minimum wage debate. Except, it’s not new. It’s been the same debate for the past hundred years.

Politicians in Washington are on the cusp of adopting another colossal spending bill, borrowing $1.9 trillion from our children and grandchildren. Congress is likely to send the legislation to President Joe Biden tomorrow. It is particularly galling that it is being sold as a COVID-19 relief bill when so much of it is completely unrelated to the needs of responding to a pandemic. So far, the bill is very partisan: Not a single Republican in either chamber voted for it.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on February 20, 2021. 

Rolling blackouts have hit millions of Texans and people across the Great Plains, including Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Severe winter weather has placed a strain on electricity supplies and caused multiple deaths. That sad situation is completely unnecessary, but it likely will increase in the coming days.

Editor's Note: This piece first appeared in The Hill on February 6, 2021.

It comes as no surprise that the Biden administration has taken ambitious early action to expand the federal government’s jurisdiction over access to health care. After all, President Biden was vice president and an influential advisor in the Obama administration, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) enlarged the federal government’s role in determining health care access and costs, and greatly constricted options for patients.

House Bill 4049: Transfer power to close schools during epidemic to locals: Passed 20 to 15 in the Senate

To establish that the director of the Department of Health and Human Services does not have the authority to issue epidemic-related emergency orders that close schools for in-person instruction or prohibit school sporting events. The legislature gave this authority to the state health department director in the Public Health Code enacted in 1978; the bill would amend that law by instead giving this authority to local health departments.

As a teen and young adult, I had a guilty pleasure of watching cheesy, B-grade horror movies. I watched them more for the humor value and to pick apart the many plot and production flaws than for their cinematic quality.

One key plot feature of each of those flicks was that screen writers regularly struggled to give the villain an interesting back story. These villains were seemingly always a misunderstood genius, the victim of a long unrequited love or some equally tragic circumstance. A second feature of these villains was that, no matter how many times the good guys fought them off, they’d always manage to spring back onto the scene, ready to wreak havoc or seek revenge.

Jonathan Chait wrote a piece for New York Magazine, titled “Zero COVID Risk is the Wrong Standard,” which identifies a significant flaw in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chait describes a phenomenon he calls “zeroism,” explained as "an inability to conceive of public-health measures in cost-benefit terms. The pandemic becomes an enemy that must be destroyed at all costs, and any compromise could lead to death and is therefore unacceptable.” He examines the point by looking at the attempts by teachers unions to deter school reopenings. But his warning also seems to fit Gov. Whitmer’s messaging about and goals for handling COVID-19.

For the first time in perhaps a century or longer, Michigan no longer ranks among the top 10 states for unionization. This is the result of a trend that accelerated after workers were finally given a choice in union membership in 2013.

After much of the auto industry was unionized in the 1930s, Michigan became known as the “birthplace of organized labor.” Flint and especially Detroit became important cities for labor interests in the United States, and labor unions established themselves major players in Michigan’s economy and political scene.

Many Michigan public schools have at least partially reopened classrooms in recent weeks to meet Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s March 1 deadline. Yet the state’s private schools have quietly set the standard for how to provide children the educational services they need in the midst of a pandemic, working creatively to remain open for in-person instruction throughout the current year.

Nicholas Bagley’s recent op-ed in the Detroit Free Press criticizing the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision last October about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers contains two major flaws and is misleading.

First, Bagley radically argues against the centuries-old concept of judicial review by claiming the Legislature should not have to worry about a court “second-guessing it.” Courts play an important role in protecting our constitutional rights against unjust laws. This is a fundamental part of the checks and balances built into the American governing system.

There are several bills in the Michigan Legislature to require state pension administrators to be more careful with the pension systems they oversee and to pay down funding problems as they arise. Legislators ought to approve them, even with their inherent financial tradeoffs. Lawmakers haven’t set aside enough money to pay for the retirement benefits that have been earned by government workers, so lawmakers should want to keep the problem from becoming worse.

Senate Bill 114: Allocate coronavirus epidemic relief dollars: Passed 19 to 15 in the Senate

To appropriate $672.7 million federal dollars and $55 million collected from state taxpayers for various coronavirus response activities including $390.1 million more for vaccine distribution and virus tests, $282.5 million more for rental subsidies, and $55 million state dollars to give a $2.25 hourly raise to certain social welfare direct care workers through September.

Good policies can come from legislation: To get lower taxes, you need lawmakers to approve a bill to lower taxes. But some good policies can come through working in the regulatory process. For example, you can get cheaper, more reliable, less-polluting energy by presenting your case to utility regulators. That’s what Overton Window podcast guest David Stevenson is doing at the Caesar Rodney Institute in Delaware.

In recent weeks, more school districts have come around to provide in-person instruction again. But those that have kept classroom doors closed until now cannot blame shortfalls in federal aid for the delay.

As Bridge Magazine reported last week, a few large school districts, including Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, have failed to even issue a plan for face-to-face instruction to return. This, even with the known educational and emotional harms of limiting children’s social interactions, the months of evidence that schools aren’t super-spreaders and multiple indicators that show the virus is receding across Michigan. These three districts are among about 15% of those statewide that have offered nothing but remote education since the pandemic started last March.

Michigan spending is already at recent highs without the kind of extra influx of cash that is being considered in Washington.

The governor’s proposed budget would spend $4.3 billion more than last year, a 7.0% increase. This includes $801.5 million more in money from state taxes and fees. State revenue has fully recovered from any losses that happened in the pandemic and is 2.0% above pre-pandemic levels when adjusted for inflation.

The American Lung Association recently called for doubling Maine’s cigarette tax, currently at $2 a pack. The association’s 2021 report on the state of tobacco control in America is a detailed one. It says nothing, however, about how higher taxes on cigarettes leads to more smuggling, which may undermine the very goals the ALA wants to achieve. Lawmakers in Augusta should not heed this call for higher taxes.

Michigan lawmakers went from supporting film incentives by a combined vote of 145-1 to ending them in a bipartisan vote just seven years later. The reason why is pretty simple: Michigan approved $500 million in subsidies and had little to show for it.

Editor's Note: More complete information on the Texas electricity grid is coming out, and the failures and rolling blackouts seem to stem from three major issues. First, there was poor planning and slow responses on the part of ERCOT, the operator of Texas’ electricity grid. Second, decisions were made against winterizing essential generation equipment, despite similar cold-related outages in 2011. Third, extreme and unusual cold weather impacted multiple generation sources: wind, solar, nuclear, coal and natural gas.