This article originally appeared in the Detroit News July 13, 2023.

There are efforts underway in Michigan to prematurely expand Michigan Reconnect, a taxpayer-funded college scholarship program that is ripe for abuse.

Under the program, state residents who have not obtained a college degree can take community college classes without paying tuition. The program used to be limited to people 25 and over, but lawmakers recently appropriated federal funds in the FY23-24 state budget to make it open to those 21 and older.

This article originally appeared in Bridge Michigan June 22 2023.

Michigan Senate bills to hand out fresh millions to brownfield developers follow a familiar corporate welfare script: Multiply benefits, ignore costs and declare success.

Senate Bill 289, which recently passed the Senate with bipartisan support, would remove the $1 billion limit on how much the state can authorize in subsidies. This “transformational” legislation has the support of Gov. Whitmer and received the support from seven Republican senators and the opposition of two Democratic senators.

In today’s “What’s Next” speech, the governor doubled down on her commitment to an energy policy that is making Michiganders colder, poorer, and more vulnerable to the cruelty of nature.

“We can achieve 100 percent clean energy while balancing reliability and affordability,” Whitmer said in a speech touting wind, solar and some “other common-sense sources” she chose not to define.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner July 12, 2023.

Big government mandates are forcing the national transition to electric vehicles. Consumer demand doesn’t appear to matter.

Government is doling out billions in special loans and subsidies to select companies and twisting tax policy to make EVs appear cheaper. At the same time, heavy-handed mandates are making traditional, reliable cars more expensive and harder to produce.

Michigan’s government spends a lot more than it used to.

The budget was $58.3 billion prior to the pandemic. Of that, $23.5 billion came from the federal government and $34.4 billion from state taxes, with local and private money making up the difference.

When policymakers want to paper over problems and avoid difficult issues, they will often pull out a distraction. That’s what we’re seeing with a new advertising campaign from the state of Michigan.

The media portray this campaign as a pitch for people with so-called blue state preferences, with Michigan advertising new policies from its Democratic-controlled Legislature. “The message from MEDC is clear,” one media outlet wrote. “If you value diversity and reproductive freedom, Michigan may be the state for you.”

Elected officials cannot enact whatever legislation they like. They find themselves bound by what is popular or at least their sense of what is popular. They can only pass laws in a narrow band of ideas, and that range is called the Overton Window. It is named for the late Joseph P. Overton, a vice president at the Mackinac Center. Joe Overton’s work still influences Mackinac Center decisions and is the inspiration for the Overton Window podcast.

Wind and solar energy do not generate much electricity, but they have a great power to cloud people’s minds. It is now fairly well known that wind and solar can pose serious threats to the nation’s wildlife — from endangered right whales to tens of thousands of bird deaths each year from solar. But optimistic green energy advocates still don’t realize the many environmental impacts associated with manufacturing, maintaining, and disposing of solar panels and wind turbines.

A number of states have begun offering parents of school-aged children scholarships that they can use to improve their child’s education as they see fit. Utah is now one of those states. Jon England, an Education Policy Analyst with the Libertas Institute in Utah, is trying to help businesses, nonprofits and families launch different educational options to meet what he thinks will be a growing market. My colleague Molly Macek speaks with him about it for the Overton Window podcast.

Michigan has a housing problem. The costs of rent and mortgages have increased substantially in recent years. Lawmakers want to do something about it, but, unfortunately, many of their proposed solutions will simply make the problem worse.

Dozens of bills have been introduced in Michigan this year relating to housing issues. Some are good, some are bad, most are minor. The media coverage of this issue has been decidedly uncritical.

Michigan’s Democratic governor announces that the state is set to become “a center for advanced battery production,” with the industry a key part of a “new Michigan economy.” Thousands of new jobs will be fueled by hundreds of millions and even billion in taxpayer subsidies.

“Let’s keep our foot on the accelerator,” Gov. Whitmer said in July to announce the $800 million expansion to the Transformational Brownfield Fund, a program to give select developers subsidies to build buildings.

The law has been added to the Mackinac Center’s business subsidy scorecard. Legislators have so far approved $4.1 billion in new business subsidies this year.

On July 20, the Mackinac Center hosted an event titled “Can Michigan buy its way to growth?” in Wyandotte, Michigan. James Hohman, director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center, and Vance Ginn founder and president of Ginn Economic Consulting, spoke on efficiency and the state budget.

Gov. Whitmer boasted last week about handing out $19 million in subsidies plus other favors to companies that pledged to create 1,900 jobs. There is a big difference between job announcements and job growth. One is about appearances. The other is about performance.

Michigan experienced complaints of “algal conditions” in 102 different water bodies in 2020, according to the Department of Environment, Great Leaks and Energy. The department also listed eight lakes as impaired by nutrients, and it targeted twelve for additional sampling.

Employers are having a hard time finding skilled workers, and lawmakers are trying to do something about it. They spend a lot on job training programs like the recent $55 million allocation to Going PRO, a program that provides awards to small businesses for employee development.

Matt Paprocki is the president of the Illinois Policy Institute, a free market think tank. He’s got a lot to do to convince his fellow Illinoisans that free market ideas are a good idea. Even so, he and his colleagues have had a lot of success. I speak with him about it for this week’s Overton Window podcast.

Michigan’s leaders have touted a “temporary” expansion to taxpayer-funded scholarship program, but now legislators have introduced a bill that would make it permanent. The program has so far produced few results, and lawmakers seem suspiciously uninterested in finding out whether it is doing any good.

The state of Michigan spent 15 months trying to lure a manufacturer of computer memory to the Lansing area, ultimately offering Micron Technology $3.2 billion in direct state support and nearly $28 billion in state and local incentives over the life of the deal. The $3.2 billion in state incentives is three times the entire budget of the Michigan State Police.

Americans may be starting to question the rosy narrative on electric vehicles. Ford has dropped prices for its brand-new line of electric pickups, the F-150 Lightning, by as much as $10,000. Mark Fields, the company’s former CEO explained recently that automakers are facing a “moment of truth,” having invested billions in EV and battery manufacturing, but finding that “the demand isn’t there right now.”

The 2024 Michigan budget contains a lot of pork. There are more than 400 different earmarks that commit money to a particular legislator’s district. This is not how legislators are supposed to budget.

They are supposed to keep the state’s best interests in mind, not their narrow political interests.

Recent scores on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress reveal that state education is lagging in its post-COVID-19 recovery. Michigan children, including some of the state’s neediest, are getting a raw deal from schools, as measured by their poor standardized test performance.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other Michigan Democrats are praising a new scorecard which ranks Michigan as a top-10 state. In the meantime, they’re pursuing policies which would harm the state on those rankings.

CNBC published “America’s Top States for Business 2023.” The methodology isn’t well explained and the category weights and metrics are fairly arbitrary. Michigan also scores points for its massive amounts of selective subsidies, which are not good policy and not well correlated with business and job growth.

Semiconductor manufacturers lobbied for federal subsidies to build semiconductor plants and got them from the CHIPS and Science Act. Some people noticed that there may be some self interest at work from the companies lobbying for federal cash. But this is a demonstration of how influence works in state capitols and in Washington. Money in politics does something, but it’s rarely the grimy and illegal quid pro quo that many Americans think goes on.

A lawsuit in New York City may serve as an example for Michigan and other states’ regulations on short-term rentals. A ruling in this case could serve as an example to governments across the country.

Local governments in Michigan restrict or ban short-term rental services such as Airbnb and Vrbo. Though this issue gets attention in major media centers, less populated areas like New Buffalo, Michigan are also struggling with rental regulations.