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.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on January 30, 2021. 

Just a decade ago, a mandatory $15-per-hour minimum wage seemed like a pipe dream — even liberal economists and The New York Times warned of negative effects. But a few large cities started enforcing it, and then it became part of the Democratic Party platform. It now stands a real chance of becoming federal law.

The regulation of Michigan’s commercial fisheries has become contentious and often combative, as cultural, financial and environmental pressures all compete for the attention of elected officials and state regulators.

Commercial fishers in Michigan are struggling to adapt to a mix of changing regulatory requirements and a declining whitefish catch. Native and commercial fishers report that growing lake trout populations are consuming whitefish as a prey species. Researchers also point out that whitefish populations have decreased in response to the rapid rise in populations of quagga and zebra mussels.

The legislature met this week but held no votes on bills of general interest. Rather than votes, this Roll Call Report describes some newly introduced bills of interest.

Senate Bill 13: Give tax break to certain business owners and developers

Some people believe that government policies in this country are determined exclusively by the rich and powerful. But another group can also have outsized influence: the persuasive. And one person who successfully convinced voters to prevent his state from adopting an income tax described how that came about, and more, on this edition of the Overton Window podcast.

Michigan’s K-12 students are not the only ones who appear to have not learned enough during the pandemic. The governor, ignoring the important role cyber schools have filled with regular classrooms shut down, has repeated her earlier budget missteps by singling out these schools for fiscal harm.

Editor's Note: The original Spanish version of this piece can be found here

Research shows strong correlations between economic freedom and prosperity — among other positive outcomes. This means that where we live can have an impact on the economic and other opportunities we enjoy for ourselves, our family and our community.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on January 23, 2021. 

One of the first tests the Biden administration will face is whether it will protect independent workers or give in to special interests.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer again tweaked her epidemic orders that restrict individual behavior, now permitting contact sports. But the governor continues to maintain strict limits on social gatherings. A look back at these restrictions over time makes the current ones hard to justify. It appears as if the governor now believes that social gatherings are one of the most dangerous activities when it comes to spreading COVID-19.

The Indiana General Assembly is contemplating a $1 per pack cigarette tax hike, with a bill introduced last week in its House Committee on Public Health. If adopted as law, the bill would raise the state’s tax rate to $1.995, nearly equaling Michigan’s current tax rate of $2 per pack. This has important implications, given the degree to which cigarette tax differentials among states drive illicit behavior, such as smuggling.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is responsible for managing the state’s natural resources and for balancing the interests of businesses, residents and visitors to the Great Lakes. The DNR’s recent decision to overhaul fishing regulations and delay the licenses for commercial fishers, however, appears to have tipped the scales against one interest without sufficient reason.

An op-ed last month in The Detroit News, headlined “National Popular Vote Upholds American Ideal,” argues against the Electoral College. It’s written by Saul Anuzis, a lobbyist hired by the organization pushing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. It makes more than a few dubious claims.

On Nov. 18, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan state health department put in place some of the most severe restrictions on businesses and individuals in the country at the time. They banned indoor dining, shut down high schools and colleges for in-person classes, closed bowling alleys and movie theaters and even prohibited ice skating and outdoor group exercises.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in The Detroit News on February 3, 2021.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in The Hill on January 16, 2021.

This month and the last brought arrests and prison sentences for smuggling cigarettes and other contraband into correctional facilities in Kansas and Maryland, respectively. Lawmakers considering hiking cigarette taxes ought to note: Higher taxes encourage more illegal smuggling into a state, and if law enforcement can’t keep illicit smokes out of prisons, there is little hope of keeping smuggled ones out of the hands of the public.

House Bill 4019: Allocate new federal coronavirus relief dollars to schools: Passed 59 to 50 in the House

To appropriate $868.5 million in recently-approved federal coronavirus relief money, which is about 25% of the entire amount available to the state, with the rest to be allocated later. The appropriation directs $510 million federal dollars to expand food stamp distributions and related programs; $165.5 million for household rent and utility subsidies; $143.7 million for coronavirus testing and contact tracing; and smaller amounts for other purposes.

Some in the Michigan film industry want to be subsidized by taxpayers, again. Lawmakers were smart to stop doing this in 2015 and should reject their latest calls. It was a waste of money then and would be a waste of money now.

The government mandated minimum wage is a hot topic right now as President Biden looks to hike the federal requirement to $15 per hour. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has expressed its opposition to similar mandates in the past and — for the same reasons as before — signed onto to a coalition letter led by Americans for Tax Reform and released on Tuesday.