Michigan lawmakers approved $1 billion worth of subsidies in December, driven by requests from unnamed companies for special treatment. More handouts to corporations are being considered. What is remarkable about the debate around the spending is how little of it occurred. Supporters refused even to acknowledge criticisms.

Senate Bill 642: End competitive bidding on state engineering contracts: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To no longer seek competitive bids for state architectural, engineering or land surveying service contracts, and instead let officials assess and rank vendors according to specified (and potentially subjective) criteria, and then try to negotiate a “fair and reasonable” contract with the “highest ranking” firm. The bill does not define “fair and reasonable,” and in the absence of competitive bidding it is not clear how a state department could know that amount. If officials don’t get the price they want they would repeat the process with the next firm on their list.

One of the long-standing strategies to get long-term political change is through youth engagement, especially on college campuses. Jarrett Skorup spoke with Tori Aultman for the Overton Window podcast about her experience launching a school debate and activism club at her university.

“Free enterprise, personal responsibility, free markets, limited government, rule of law and, of course, freedom are fundamental tenets to democracy and human progress,” Northwood University President Kent MacDonald wrote in a recent post to the university’s website. These tenets form what MacDonald calls the “Northwood Idea,” and for 60 years they “have guided Northwood in our belief that liberty is the greatest determinant of one’s success in life and of prosperity in the communities where we live.”

Three state universities in Michigan have eliminated in-state tuition rates. Some lawmakers may be concerned that residents no longer get special treatment, but this is a good move for the schools and for the state.

Eastern Michigan University began charging the same tuition for residents and nonresidents for the 2016-17 year. Ferris State University and Lake Superior State University made the move in 2018-19.

The 12th and latest edition of National School Choice Week (January 23-29) arrives in Michigan at a time when demand for education options has reached an all-time high. Out of appreciation for the benefits many students and families already enjoy, state officials should work to further expand access to needed options.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Detroit News on Jan. 17, 2022. 

Last week, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel aired her grievances with an auditor general’s review of how her department tracked COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. The auditor general released the anticipated report Monday, and the results reveal that the state failed to accurately track and report these deaths.

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of a blog that was first published one year ago today.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a $5.6 billion pandemic recovery plan for Michigan 12 months ago, 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. Legislation to do just that — but under a new name — is up before a state House committee in Lansing at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Ford Motor Co. caused Lansing politicians and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation some embarrassment and consternation last fall when it chose two southern states for its new production of electric vehicles and battery components.

Lansing’s political class responded to the announcement by quietly concocting a subsidy program known as “SOAR,” or “Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve,” and then jamming it through the full legislature last December. It is a $1 billion taxpayer fund that will give subsidies to a few corporations.

Michigan gives out hundreds of millions of dollars to a handful of private companies each year. Yet corporate-welfare bureaucrats claim residents shouldn’t and can’t be told how much taxpayer money each company receives. This violates the governmental spending transparency that Michiganders demand from their government. The Michigan Constitution mandates that “financial records” be disclosed and therefore prohibits this secrecy. The Michigan Supreme Court should require that all corporate welfare expenditures be made available to the public.

The Overton Window podcast has covered a lot of tactics that can help people change policy. Compelling and clever messages can build momentum on an issue. Litigation cannot be ignored. People can make their case directly to lawmakers. But there is no substitute for knowing how a policy works, and for the Overton Window podcast, I spoke with Byron Schlomach. He has decades of experience in research and writing on policy for free-market think tanks in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma.

The Michigan Legislature met on the second Wednesday of the new year, as prescribed by the Michigan Constitution. No roll call votes were held in the House or Senate, so this report describes some bills of general interest from 2021 that are still pending.

The recent Bridge Michigan headline was hardly startling: “Michigan students forced online by COVID learned less than those in schools.” But given that the headline appeared during a new wave of closed classrooms in some of the state’s more populated areas, it unleashed a greater sense of urgency.

As prescribed by the Michigan Constitution, the Legislature will begin the second year of the 101st Legislature on the second Wednesday of the new year, which is Jan. 12. This report describes some bills of general interest that were introduced in its first year.

These are the times that try the priorities of Michigan’s public schools. As the calendar turned to 2022, some of Michigan’s largest school districts announced a full return to remote instruction. Many parents are understandably beside themselves, even as many teachers would like to do more to help.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Detroit News on December 21, 2021. 

The Michigan Legislature has fast-tracked a new corporate subsidy fund that exceeds $1 billion in value. It is designed to subsidize large, for-profit projects, several of which may involve deals for electric vehicle producers.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on December 18, 2021.

A lot of ink has been spilled describing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), adopted in March. It is designed to help the country recover from the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including economic ones. A case can be made that the U.S. economy would have recovered on its own and that this newest federal spending blowout was unnecessary.

On Dec. 15, Enbridge Energy requested to have a 2019 lawsuit, brought by the state of Michigan against the company’s Line 5 pipeline, moved from state courts to the federal court that is presiding over another Line 5 case. Upon hearing of the company’s request to combine the cases before the same federal judge, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel fumed that the company’s move was an “outrageous maneuver.” She characterized the request as a “flagrant attempt to undermine” a federal rule that typically limits this type of request to within 30 days of a case’s initial filing. The energy company argues that a recent judicial ruling effectively reset the 30-day provision.

Special interest groups looking for public policy favors don’t necessarily have to go through the budget process to get taxpayer cash. There are other ways to get money, which spare them the trouble of having to argue with other spending interests over scarce resources. One often-used method is to create a new tax credit program.

This past year saw significant changes in labor policy throughout the country, both good and bad. As the year comes to a close, it’s important to reflect on successes of those dedicated to worker freedom, while never losing sight of the ongoing threats to it in the year to come.

When the end of the year is in sight, it’s common for people to look back on the outgoing year to reminisce on the memories made and accomplishments earned. This year, we here at the Mackinac Center thought we would take a look at our top highlights from 2021 in the form of a popular Christmas song ‑ the 12 days of Christmas!

There are unprecedented piles of federal cash at Michigan school districts’ disposal. What truly creative ideas will they embrace to help as many students as possible?

Michigan public schools are collecting an extra $6 billion in combined COVID relief. Most of the money was doled out in a highly uneven fashion, which heavily favored districts that provided little or no in-person instruction last school year. Earlier this year, the Legislature redirected $362 million to raise the funding floor and help alleviate the disparity. Three-fourths of districts will end up with $1,100-$6,000 per pupil from these specific pots of money. Nearly all other districts are taking in far more.

Contracting out with private companies to provide support services has been a time-tested way for school districts to save money and improve their operations. The Mackinac Center has surveyed districts going back to 2001 to find out just how many contract out for food, custodial and transportation services. We found that contracting increased from 31.0% of school districts in 2001 to 69.6% in 2021.

Senate Bill 85: Authorize spending $1 billion on new corporate subsidy program: Passed 25 to 11 in the Senate

To appropriate $1 billion for a new corporate subsidy scheme. The money would pay for a “Critical Industry Fund” to give grants and loans to certain companies to create jobs or job training, and a “Strategic Site Readiness Fund” to give others money to create “investment-ready sites” for new plants and facilities. The bill also appropriates $409 million for relief to businesses "afflicted" by the coronavirus epidemic and responses, and $75 million to reduce personal property taxes levied on business tools and equipment.

Late 19th-century America has the reputation as operating under free-market policies — not because of anything that went on in the federal government, but because of a bottom-up citizen reaction to failed policies in the states. It put in place important limitations on state governments’ ability to support private business with tax money. The limitations stand in the law even today, but courts have, in various opinions, reduced them to near-irrelevance. I spoke about these laws, and their changing role, with Matthew D. Mitchell and Jonathan Riches, co-authors of the report, Outlawing Favoritism: The Economics, History, and Law of Anti-Aid Provisions in State Constitutions, published by the Mercatus Center.