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Listening to the partisan political debate, some people may think that the only way for government policies to change is to elect the right people. While elections are important, they are not the only way that policies get changed. Another possibility is that the Overton Window shifts when some ideas become more popular, and the change can make previously unthinkable policies possible. I spoke with the Mackinac Center’s director of research, Michael Van Beek, to talk about how the Overton Window changes. We looked at the new ways policymakers thought about taxi regulations and what caused them to rethink their approach.

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of articles examining the effect of repealing prevailing wage mandates. The first one can be read here and the second can be read here.

Indiana policymakers repealed that state’s Common Construction Wage Act in 2015. The law imposed a prevailing wage mandate on construction firms, which now have more flexibility to determine employee compensation. Since the repeal, observers have attempted to understand the consequences for employees. And not just for construction workers in general, but also for those who do similar work in the public sector.

Lansing lawmakers are debating the conditions under which Michigan public schools will be funded next year. The Senate has approved a proposal to ensure all districts reopen classrooms for face-to-face instruction. But given the weaknesses exposed in the public school system and the challenge of helping students who fell behind during the pandemic, it isn’t enough to simply return schooling to normal.

If a shooting takes place at an apartment complex — which, unfortunately, is not uncommon — should government officials start talking about ways to ban apartment complexes? Or, say a crime was committed at an apartment building. Would it make sense to ask whether a website that renters use to find apartments was involved or complicit in the crime?

Over and over again, we see satirical stories that poke fun at silliness in politics and in the media coming true. But if you had planned to satirize the current energy debate in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s refusal to even pause her demands to close the Line 5 pipeline would seem too extreme and unrealistic, even for satire. Rather than appearing steadfast, in the light of recent fuel shortages on the East Coast and widespread predictions of massive job losses and energy restrictions, Gov. Whitmer’s dogged commitment to closing the pipeline now is no laughing matter.

Editor's Note: This is the second piece in a series of articles examining the effect of repealing prevailing wage mandates. The first one can be read here

The effect of repealing prevailing wage mandates, which require governments to pay union pay rates for construction projects, remains hotly debated. While many observers express concern about the implications for workers, others wonder if (and how) repeal affects the cost of public sector construction projects. Some advocates claim that repeal lowers the cost of infrastructure projects, including school construction.

Throughout her 2 1/2 years in office, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has rarely agreed with the Michigan Legislature on policy issues. The governor's unilateral approach to handling the state's COVID-19 response not only locked out the Legislature but also damaged this relationship. Now with the possibility that one-person governance will be over, the governor and Legislature need to determine what policy changes they'll focus on when they return to the normal lawmaking process.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on April 10, 2021. 

Recent media reports lit up with news that the oil and gas industry has agreed to endorse a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Several weeks ago, the American Petroleum Institute (API), one of the nation’s largest oil and gas trade associations, voted to support the tax as a replacement for current greenhouse gas regulations. Readers should realize that the API’s support for the carbon tax is based on at least four big myths.

Editor's Note: This piece first appeared in The Detroit News on April 24, 2021.

Just last month, the Whitmer administration was praising the public for its role in driving down the number of COVID-19 cases. At a March 10 press conference, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said Michigan residents "have by and large followed public health recommendations: wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding gatherings.”

Senate Bill 128: Impose same expanded hours mandate on both new and used car dealers: Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate

To impose a new mandate on both new and used auto dealers that they must be open for 30 hours per week during at least 48 weeks a year. This would likely have no effect on new car dealers, whose generally larger operations and costs make them likely to keep long hours already, but the additional burden could force some used car dealers to go out of business.

It’s easy to ignore arguments made in the public debate. No one forces you to pay attention. But on some issues, policy advocates turn to a strategy that cannot be ignored: Litigation.

Filing lawsuits on behalf of clients can win important policy victories that can also grab the attention of voters and turn into legislative victories. I spoke with Kim Buddin, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which has had decades of experience in turning litigation into changes in policy.

In 2015, Indiana policymakers repealed the state’s Common Construction Wage Act. This Great Depression-era law mandated that construction firms working on certain government-funded projects pay their employees a salary equal to what construction workers received elsewhere. A government committee determined the appropriate amount, commonly known as a prevailing wage.

After refusing for more than a year to specify what data drove her COVID-19 policies, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer finally announced metrics that she’ll use to relax and eventually remove the state’s current restrictions on public interactions and private gatherings. Last May, for instance, she said, “There’s no textbook specific number that will tell you it is safe to reengage a particular sector of the economy.” Eventually, though, she found some.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently announced a new plan for winding down and eventually lifting some of the state’s most wide-reaching COVID-19 orders. While that’s a promising development, an important question remains: Will the governor also relinquish her unilateral control over all pandemic-related policies?

Overshadowed by growing evidence of a broken education system, this year’s celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week offers a real inflection point. Will Michigan cling to old policies and structures that limit its most dedicated teachers, or will it give those teachers new ways to shine?

House Bill 4052: End daylight savings time; put whole state on Eastern time: Passed 87 to 22 in the House

To establish that if the U.S. Congress approves, it is the intent of the legislature to make daylight saving time the year-round standard time statewide. This would take effect only if Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania also make the change. Parts of the western Upper Peninsula along the Wisconsin border are currently on central time, and would change to eastern time under the bill.

The Michigan Legislature is considering a package of bills that would promote new recycling and composting requirements. This package, consisting of House bills 4454 to 4461, was passed by the House on April 22. While the idea of recycling seems almost sacrosanct, when you dig in, you actually find a host of problems in these bills: expanding government mandates, new fees and increased costs, and (at best) dubious environmental gains.

The Whitmer administration targeted teenagers for being among the culprits responsible for state’s third COVID-19 wave. Media reports provided examples of outbreaks among sports teams, and a narrative developed that youth sports programs were where the virus was most active. In response to this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer mandated that all athletes between the ages of 13 and 19 get tested weekly for COVID-19, starting April 2.

Company managers know that they can get states to give them taxpayer money when they’re looking to place a business project. They give state politicians an ultimatum when they start a subsidy bidding war for their next project: Pony up or miss out. While economists have looked at the numbers and showed that missing out is actually the right move, one truth is obvious: The politician who refuses to play may be sending the message “I don’t care about jobs.” The political incentives to pay are strong. It’s not like that person’s own money is at stake, and maybe things will work out after all.

The state of Michigan has recommended that its citizens do not travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Key officials themselves, however, have been busted for traveling to southern states like Florida and Alabama. In addition, our government is spending money to encourage people to travel. So, which is it? One easy way to eliminate the mixed-messaging is for the state to stop subsidizing the tourism industry with its Pure Michigan advertising campaign.

In the late 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court developed a doctrine called qualified immunity. With a few exceptions, it prevents state actors like police officers from civil lawsuits that allege they violated the rights of others. While this doctrine has been maintained at the federal level, there have been recent pushbacks in the states. We spoke with Jay Schweikert of the Cato Institute, a national free-market think tank, about a recent law passed in New Mexico to end qualified immunity.

Michigan has made a major move toward funding its public colleges fairly. For too long, the amount any particular university received from the state depended on considerations of political power rather than on its performance or need. But a legislative appropriations subcommittee has unanimously approved a bill that would do away with the current arbitrary spending method. Instead, it would set a standard per-pupil allotment, and colleges would receive funding based on how many students they enroll. This is a much more equitable system, and a long-time Mackinac Center recommendation.

Senate Bill 134: Authorize penalties for defrauding drug tests: Passed 33 to 1 in the Senate

To make the manufacture, advertisement, sale, or distribution of synthetic urine or another adulterant for purposes of defrauding a drug test a crime subject to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Editor's Note: This piece first appeared in National Review on April 11, 2021. 

What's a city official to do when a pandemic slams tax revenue? In our home states of Michigan and Ohio, state and local leaders have an odd — and unconstitutional — answer. They want cities to tax people who neither live nor work within their limits.

While COVID-19 has brought its share of challenges to Michigan’s public schools, it has also given them an unprecedented windfall.

Conventional districts and charter schools are absorbing an unprecedented amount of federal funds – over $6 billion identified in a new Mackinac Center report. The way these dollars are handed out tips the scales in certain districts’ favor, wildly in some cases, in ways that clearly don’t match current needs.