People skeptical of government overreach often look at a policy proposal and ask whether it reduces the amount of money the government has. If so, then it limits the government’s power and is a good idea.

Would that it were so simple.

It is good to have a healthy suspicion about public spending. Limited-government advocates ought to notice, however, that even a proposal that reduces government revenue can increase government power.

Lawmakers in Michigan are considering bills that would impose rent control on mobile home operators. Five bills before the Senate create many new regulations, including restrictions on owners of manufactured housing communities. Instead of determining their rental rates independently, they would have to submit any rent increases above the inflation rate to a state board for approval.

The cost of housing has increased, and it’s hard for builders to respond to demand for affordable homes. In many cities, all but the most expensive kind of housing has been banned. M. Nolan Gray, research director for California YIMBY — that’s Yes In My Back Yard — talks about the challenge of building modest housing for the Overton Window podcast.

Michigan lawmakers are debating and may repeal a little-known law called the Educational Instruction Access Act. The law was enacted in 2017 and owes its existence to school officials in Detroit who tried to prevent a charter school from using one of their vacated buildings — one they had already sold. All the law does is prohibit school districts from blocking a different school from using their former buildings.

Michigan is making big wagers while playing a very weak hand in the renewable energy game. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year signed legislation making Michigan one of the 23 states that will attempt to achieve a net-zero carbon dioxide emission goal through legislative fiat.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the Growing Michigan Together Council last summer. It was charged with recommending reforms to grow Michigan’s population.

Populations rise and fall across states over time. There are only a few factors that impact the rate of change of a state’s population, but inbound migration from other states is a big one. For a number of reasons, people choose to move to or from particular states. Michigan’s population has been, at best, stagnant when it comes to this type of migration.

Charter schools outperform conventional public schools in Detroit despite getting less money. And many are performing as well as the best open enrollment schools in Michigan. Their success at doing more with less should be rewarded, but that’s not the case.

Michigan became the first state in decades to repeal its right-to-work law by legislative action, which took effect Feb. 13. With the repeal in place, anyone who works at a company with a union contract, at least in the private sector, must join or pay fees to a labor union or be fired. The repeal comes at a time when union membership numbers are the lowest ever officially recorded.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle on February 11, 2024. 

Despite no independent evidence of their success, film production subsidies are once again on the docket in Lansing. House bills 4907 and 4908, championed by northern Michigan Rep. John Roth, would create a tax credit for up to 30% of production expenses. The company that qualifies for the credit could then sell it at a discount to another.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to take $670 million out of the state’s pension debt payments and spend it elsewhere. Michigan legislators should be careful. Underfunded pension debts have a long history of wreaking havoc with state budgets. Lawmakers, employees, unions and citizens should all want to catch up on what taxpayers owe to public retirees.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reiterated her plan to continue expanding taxpayer-paid preschool to all four-year-olds in her State of the State address and budget proposal last week. But her PreK for All plan will do nothing more than subsidize preschool for wealthier families. It’s a waste of time and money for the state to pay the bills of people who don’t need help.

The Growing Michigan Together Council, a task force Gov. Gretchen Whitmer charged with drafting recommendations to reverse Michigan’s population decline, suggests normalizing the concept of super-seniors at the high school level.

Super-seniors are college students who stretch four years of a baccalaureate degree over five or six.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is calling for “free” community college for all Michigan students. But this proposal is very unlikely to be worth the increased expense to taxpayers. Taxpayer funding for community college is already skyrocketing, but the number of students attending community colleges in Michigan has plummeted. At the same time, the number of those graduating or continuing to other schools is alarmingly low.

Elected officials feel they need to show they’re doing something about jobs, and what could be a bigger spectacle than a Hollywood crew shooting a new film in their state? There has been a proliferation of states offering to pay large parts of a film production’s expenses with taxpayer dollars. And there is also an ideologically diverse group of people — including the Mackinac Center — who think that’s a waste of money. I speak with Jacob Whiton and Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First about our opposition to film subsidies.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recommends that legislators approve her proposed HIRE program, which would give select companies taxpayer money. In her pitch, she confuses taxpayer subsidies for saving companies money. “The more you hire, the more you should save in Michigan,” she says.

Only the government would use taxpayer money to pretend to solve a problem rather than actually solving it at no financial cost. This is how Michigan makes housing law.

The state could use more housing. While Michigan’s overall population is stagnant, the number of actual households increased by 200,000 in the past decade. The Great Lakes State is also a popular tourist destination and place for people to have second homes. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority says we need 190,000 more housing units just to “curb a crisis.”

Michigan has received a “special dishonorable mention” from a prominent watchdog group for its plans to spend more than $1.5 billion in federal taxpayer money on broadband deployment and adoption programs. These funds from the 2021 federal infrastructure bill are being distributed to the state through the National Technology and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program and will be administered in the state by the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office.

Michigan lawmakers earmarked $225 million for the state’s 21st Century Jobs Fund over the next three years. This is the same fund that Gov. Granholm said would blow us away. This law has been added to the Mackinac Center’s business subsidy scorecard.

The 21st Century Jobs Fund has been used for over a dozen different programs since it began. Most of the money is gone and few jobs flowed from the state’s efforts. One assessment found that the programs the fund supported cost taxpayers between $274,800 and $330,600 per job, hardly a good deal for taxpayers. Plus, the state has continued to obfuscate what was spent and what the state got in return for its spending.

A large percentage of Michigan residents are barely scraping by, according to multiple news reports. MLive says 56% of households in Kalamazoo can’t survive. CBS explains that 40% of Michiganders are “financially insecure.” An NPR affiliate says four in ten Michigan residents don’t make enough “to pay for the basics.”

More than 60 students, educators and policymakers from across Michigan braved winter weather last week to celebrate National School Choice Week at the state Capitol. This annual event to raise awareness about the many education options in the Great Lakes State was sponsored by the Mackinac Center, Parent Advocates for Choice in Education, the Great Lakes Education Project and other key partners in the education freedom movement.

Democratic political leaders are using a tragic event — which may have little or nothing to do with homeschooling — to call for more regulations of families teaching their own children. They claim that forcing homeschool parents to register with the state will protect kids, but no one has explained how that would work.

This article originally appeared in National Review December 4, 2023.

Michigan is the latest state to embrace the self-destructive idea that it can completely wean itself from traditional energy sources. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed two laws on November 28 that all but ensure the state will replace its reliable sources of electricity production with unreliable ones such as wind and solar. The result, according to a new Mackinac Center analysis, will be skyrocketing utility bills and days-long blackouts in the depths of winter.

People largely purchase new cars and trucks through established auto dealers. These dealers are protected by state laws that prohibit direct sales from automakers. But electric vehicle manufacturers have been trying to change this. A coalition of free-market, environmentalist and consumer advocate groups support them. Dan Crane is the Richard W. Pogue Professor at Law at the University of Michigan and has been working to improve these laws. Michael Van Beek speaks with him for the Overton Window podcast.

This article originally appeared in The Detroit News December 27. 2023.

Members of the Growing Michigan Together council seem to agree that the state needs to spend more money to grow the state's population.

But they’re only debating whether the state needs to raise taxes to do it. The council has given little attention to improving existing public services, which is odd coming from a group that views government as vitally important, even to population growth.

State Rep. David Martin introduced legislation last week to roll back Michigan’s income tax rate from 4.25% to 3.9%. This proposal would help households deal with the soaring cost of living and spur job growth. But most importantly, the 3.9% rate would deliver on a promise made to taxpayers almost 20 years ago. Michigan taxpayers deserve a tax cut.