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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.

Last week, the University of Michigan School of Public Health released a series of seven Powerpoint slides that attempt to show that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent lockdown policies resulted in “2,800 lives saved.” The analysis relies on a predictive simulation built on several questionable assumptions, and the slides offer few details about how the estimate was generated. But one thing is clear: This report does not measure the impact of the governor’s orders, but simply assumes that they worked as intended. And even if these assumptions were true and the report had a perfectly tuned predictive model, its findings are exaggerated.

Many people believe that politics is rotten, believing, to paraphrase the lead character in a Robin Williams movie, that “Politicians should dress like NASCAR drivers so we can know who bought them.” But after I used my podcast, The Overton Window, to interview people who have successfully changed policy, I can confirm that this view is unjustified.

The new 101st Michigan Legislature resumed sessions this week after a week-long suspension. It will likely be several more weeks before new bills advance through committees and are taken up by the full House or Senate for a vote.

There was one politically meaningful action this week when the Senate Republican majority brought forward a vote to disapprove 13 administrative board and commission appointments made by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer correctly noted in Wednesday’s State of the State address that “COVID exposed deep inequities in our education system.” Yet her latest K-12 funding proposal further tips the scales against students in certain public schools.

“What would you say ... you do here?” It’s not only an infinitely quotable question from Office Space, but also a question anyone who has worked at a think tank or public policy organization has been asked many times.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Detroit News on January 25, 2021. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took time at her latest press conference to slay a myth, saying “Things have not been closed for eight months.” It is true, of course, that the economy is not and was not ever fully shut down. But the governor’s attempt to regulate nearly every aspect of our social lives promotes the public perception that this is what happened, because her approach is to prohibit everything except that which she specifically allows.

Michigan policy can encourage job growth with a simple change to how its corporate income tax system treats the cost of equipment.

When the state taxes a business based on how much income it earns, state administrators have to figure out how the business should account for its expenses when it calculates its tax obligation. A business only has income if it earns a profit, and profits are what a business earns above its costs. So if a restaurant sells a $10 sandwich that costs it $7 to make, then it pays taxes on the $3 of profit.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a $5.6 billion pandemic recovery plan for Michigan on Tuesday, and she included in her proposal a call for more corporate handouts. Chief among her ideas is renewing the so-called Good Jobs for Michigan program.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on December 28, 2020. 

In the spring, many families were willing to give schools the benefit of the doubt as they adjusted to distance-learning programs, but it looks like time has run out on that goodwill. Part of the frustration is tied to students’ learning losses in key subjects such as math. Even more significant, perhaps, are concerns about mental health and child care.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called on lawmakers to spend more on a business subsidy program because the Pfizer plant in Michigan that produces a COVID-19 vaccine received taxpayer money. This is a weak justification, as the relationships between state subsidies and vaccines are unclear. And policymakers should be careful not to leverage the pandemic for unrelated policy preferences.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently encouraged school districts to reopen their doors to in-person learning by March 1. This is another abrupt turn in the governor’s pandemic policies. The state’s current data on COVID-19 do not appear to support such a move, especially in context of the governor’s previous actions. Which raises a question: Do the state’s COVID metrics even matter anymore?

A new Ed Trust-Midwest survey reveals widespread dissatisfaction with pandemic instruction and strong demand for remedies to make up for lost learning, but the accompanying policy prescription for more money is built on a weak foundation and discounts a key piece of funding.

President-elect Joe Biden has announced his $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” that his administration believes is necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its related fallout. This is reportedly just the first of two plans he will propose and comes on top of previous pandemic-related recovery plans passed in 2020. But most of Biden’s plan should be rejected — it’s too expensive, isn’t targeted enough to those who need help and includes priorities not related to an economic rescue.

The term “essential” assumed a new meaning in 2020 as essential workers kept critical services going throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A new tuition program, created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and called “Futures for Frontliners,” offers opportunities for these Michigan workers to further their education, but it may not deliver on its promise of helping more Michigan residents get a college education.

Lawmakers and people who rely on state spending were worried about how much the state would need to be cut as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these early concerns, it turns out that the answer is: Not at all. In fact, federal spending more than makes up for the small losses in state revenue — and by a lot.

2021 Senate Bill 1: Limit state health department epidemic orders without legislative approval

Introduced by Sen. Lana Theis (R) on January 13, 2021, to restrict emergency orders the state health department (the Department of Health and Human Service) may impose in response to an epidemic to 28 days unless an extension is approved by the legislature. A state Public Health Code adopted by the legislature in 1978 gives the department the authority to issue such orders.

The traditional path to become a teacher in Michigan requires getting a bachelor’s degree from an in-state program, completing a teacher preparation program and passing state-approved tests. But that model puts up unnecessary obstacles, prevents school districts from hiring certain candidates and doesn’t result in better educators.

According to The New York Times, Michigan is one of only three states that have a statewide ban on indoor dining. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hinted this week that she may modify her lockdown policies to permit restaurants to reopen on Feb. 1. But restaurant owners shouldn’t hold their breath: The governor and her health department director would not commit to this at a press conference yesterday and offered reasons why the ban may continue.

The 100th Michigan Legislature — which ran from 2019 to 2020 — approved the least amount of business subsidies since 2001, according to a scorecard compiled by the Mackinac Center. While lawmakers may be tempted to give state taxpayer dollars to some businesses in the name of creating jobs, the policy is ineffective, unfair to companies that don’t get the handouts, and expensive for taxpayers.

The governor is loosening her lockdown orders, though what is and isn’t allowed to open still seems confusing and inconsistent. Closing lots of businesses by government decree has a questionable effect on reducing the harms of COVID-19, but a clearer effect on unemployment.