“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is a quote from philosopher George Santayana. States like Michigan, Massachusetts, Vermont, and some local units of government are taking up prohibitions on flavored products, such as electronic cigarettes, menthol cigarettes or other flavored products. As they do so, we wonder how many elected officials remember, or care to remember, lessons about efforts to prohibit alcohol, or even marijuana. They are manifold, and lawmakers should ponder them before charging ahead.

In response to news reports that an increasing number of school districts are using long-term substitute teachers, a poll claims that the vast majority of Michigan residents want people to have more training before being able to teach. But mandating certification is unlikely to help this perceived problem.

Lawmakers have taken a newfound interest in interstate compacts to eliminate business subsidies. A version has been introduced in New York, Florida, New Hampshire, Hawaii and West Virginia. And there is another that covers Kansas City. It’s good that there are multiple approaches being taken, and there are lessons to be learned from the Kansas City agreement.

The presidential election year gives Michigan school districts an extra opportunity to ask local voters to raise taxes to finance construction projects. The approach of that extra election date highlights the need for a more inclusive and transparent election process.

Environmental issues sit at the top of many Michigander’s list of policy priorities for 2020. But discussions about electric vehicles, solar panels, climate change, animal rights and many other issues are often emotionally charged, and can easily morph into ideological warfare, with both sides digging in and resorting to lobbing rhetorical bombs at each other. Is there room for rational debate in 2020?

A recent article says the metrics people generally use to measure the state of the economy are wrong and suggests Michiganders are worse off today than they were during the depths of the “Lost Decade,” roughly defined as 2000-2009. But this argument relies on an analysis that misrepresents both the real state of the economy and the well-being of residents.

After a year-long stalemate in the legislative debate on road funding, some people are again suggesting that taking on more debt could improve road conditions. While this can improve roads now, it does so at the expense of the future.

Michigan’s road debts get paid off with revenue that would otherwise go to road repair. The state already carries $1.1 billion in transportation debts, all of which originated more than nine years ago. The state paid $161 million on its road debts last year, financed with federal grants and transportation funds, money which could have been used to pay for current road repairs instead.

State budget officials estimate that Michigan tax and fee collections will rise in the upcoming fiscal year and the next one. The question now is whether lawmakers will use the extra money to fund what appears to be their highest shared priority: increased road repair spending. Last year’s stalemate over state road spending and taxes complicates current efforts to direct this growing revenue to roads.

Elected officials in Southeast Michigan want to put another tax hike on the ballot to pay for more bus lines or whatever else they may fit into their tax-and-spend transit plan. They also want state lawmakers to change some of the rules about funding transit before they seek to get it approved. Transit supporters should instead try to find out how to make the transit they already have work instead of asking for more money.

Michigan began 2020 without its taxpayer-funded Pure Michigan advertising campaign, having zeroed it out during last year’s budget debate. The appropriation should remain at zero as the Pure Michigan program is demonstrably ineffective, expensive and unfair.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on December 13, 2019.

Michigan’s crime rate presently sits at a 50-year low and its prison population at a 20-year low. So it should follow that the state’s jail population also should be declining, as it has nationally since 2008. Instead, Michigan’s jail population has tripled since the 1980s — with no sign of abating.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on December 11, 2019. 

At this time of year, it’s normal for people to look back and consider the many blessings they enjoy in their lives. There’s no escaping the fact that the people of this nation are richly blessed.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on December 20, 2019.

Florida’s state government is suing Planet Hollywood, arguing that it paid the company to create jobs that never appeared and it wants its money back. Clawbacks such as this one are a regular feature of state deals with companies, and states tend to get repaid without court intervention. The bigger question is why state lawmakers around the country think they need to offer corporate handouts in the first place.

Presidential election season must be heading into full swing. Left-leaning activists are crafting messages to persuade fellow Democrats about how to perceive certain issues in choosing a candidate. Education is no exception.

In a recent example, podcaster Jennifer Berkshire recently tried to downplay racial divisions within the Democratic Party over charter schools. Her Dec. 30 column for The Nation frames the issue as “liberals vs. moderates,” which misses both the plight of real students and families and the broad support for educational options from minorities.

While there were important laws passed in the statehouse in 2019, what didn’t get passed was just as noteworthy. There was no large tax increase, despite it being governor’s highest priority. There was less road funding in the budget, despite a consensus between legislators and the governor that that the state ought to spend more on road repairs. This was also a light year for business subsidies, and our business subsidy scorecard — which records legislators’ votes on such matters — contains only one small addition.

Miladis Salgado is a Florida mom who had $15,000 seized and forfeited by the federal government. But she was never even charged with criminal activity. For two years, she fought in court and eventually had her property returned.

Interest groups will increasingly make their case about why they like or dislike different candidates as the 2020 election approaches. Perhaps this is why union officials have repeatedly claimed that the 2017 tax reform package hurts their members. But it isn’t true: Almost everyone got a tax cut.

The 100th Michigan Legislature completed its 2019 business and will commence its second year of regular sessions on Wednesday Jan. 8. The next Roll Call Report will be posted on Jan. 10. This report recaps the 2019 legislature’s volume of activity.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Detroit News on December 15, 2019.

Michigan will end 2019 with some great news: State lawmakers didn’t re-up the audaciously named “Good Jobs for Michigan” corporate handout program. The state will not be able to give away new deals for taxpayer cash to companies through this program starting in 2020.

On Jan. 1 the Mackinac Center’s Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative posted and distributed its first policy recommendations of the year. The essay was titled “2019 State Budget: Cut Corporate Welfare for Roads and Economic Growth,” and it described the shortcomings of the state’s subsidy programs and how money now dedicated to them might be better spent.

Michigan voters legalized recreational marijuana through a ballot proposal last year, and labor unions are seeing green. Big Labor and its allies are trying to use state regulations to grow union revenue.

After Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2013, most its largest unions have seen big declines in membership and revenue. State law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions have rendered it illegal for unions to force workers to pay them money in order to hold a job. This has freed hundreds of thousands of teachers, auto workers, day care employees, state workers, home caregivers and more.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Tuesday announcement that she would sign the supplemental school aid bill signals the end to a lengthy appropriations debate, finally wrapping up more than two months into the fiscal year. The prolonged drama could easily obscure the final result, which is well within the trend of increased state spending on education.

Six years ago I criticized a chart that President Obama published about job growth. It implied that he was single-handedly responsible for ending the Great Recession. In presenting the same information in a slightly different manner, the data suggested that the recession continued to intensify for months after the president took office. It’s worth a second look with new data and a new administration.