Bureaucrats can rely on new laws to crush innovative learning options. But they can rely on new interpretations of existing rules to do the same thing, bypassing laws that elected officials have approved. Such is the case with a new set of rules the Michigan Department of Education has released for financial auditing.

In cities around Michigan – including those in severe financial trouble – taxpayers are paying large amounts of money in overtime and extra pay. In some cases, cities pay two or three times a typical salary for just one person to do a job.

Some recent stories from Michigan Capitol Confidential highlight the problem:

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the McClatchy Tribune in August of 2018. 

Thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, if government unions across the country want to keep collecting dues, they may need to get their members to opt back in to do so.

August marks the beginning of the back-to-school bustle and the return of lawmakers from their summer recess. Although only a few session days remain, three important proposals for criminal justice would, if passed, create significant and long-lasting improvements for many Michiganders.

The Legislature remains on a summer campaign break with no sessions scheduled until after the Aug. 7 primary election. Rather than votes this report contains some interesting or noteworthy recent bill introductions.

Senate Bill 1051: Require governor create annual state “strategic plan”
Introduced by Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R), to require the governor to submit an annual “strategic plan” for the state alongside the annual executive budget recommendation. This would have to include, “the mission, vision, goals, strategies, and performance measures for each state department, including measures of the department's inputs, outputs, and output measures.” Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Law school professors teach that the legal system relies on judicial neutrality and binding precedent to ensure that cases get resolved objectively and consistently. But, they regularly caution, the reality is that sometimes an outcome can be influenced by what the judge ate for breakfast that morning.

When the state of Michigan closed its defined-benefit pension plan to new employees in 1997, it still needed to pay for the benefits that existing employees had earned. Unfortunately, the state went from having saved enough money to pay all promised benefits to a $6 billion underfunding gap. New data from the state shows that it is finally starting to catch up.

When it comes to government power, less is more. A recent California court case over who should be responsible for financial claims related to climate change demonstrates this reality.

In September 2017, seven California cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, filed lawsuits against five energy producers – Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. They demanded that the companies “take responsibility” for the harms they claim will occur as a result of climate change, specifically, flooding and property damage.

Michigan’s business subsidies are unfair and ineffective. And they waste taxpayer money.

They don’t work because they cost a lot of money and only influence a miniscule part of the economy. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being lost in any year in Michigan and hundreds of thousands of jobs replace them. Meanwhile the state’s “economic development” programs only influence a handful of jobs, and always and only at taxpayer expense.

The Legislature remains on a summer campaign break with no sessions scheduled until after the Aug. 7 primary election. Rather than votes, this report contains some interesting or noteworthy recent bill introductions.

Senate Bill 1041: Mandate pill jar labels have overdose hotline number
Introduced by Sen. Steve Bieda (D), to require prescription pill jar labels to have the number of a substance abuse hotline on them. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s research is supplemented by work from a group of academics who make up our Board of Scholars. One Center Scholar, Dr. Sarah Estelle, an associate professor of economics at Hope College, just published new findings on the effects of harsher sentences on future crime. The results, appearing in the Journal of Public Economics, indicate that a harsh approach to criminal sentencing does not always reduce recidivism rates.

Is the state budget growing faster than inflation? Answering that question can inform policymakers about whether the state can afford to cut taxes. But there isn’t always a clear answer. It matters when you start the comparison. Starting in different time periods can yield different results.

Unlike any other state, Michigan faces potentially serious consequences for its dismal record in special education. Rather than wait for federal officials to intervene to help students, Michigan should look to other states for dramatic changes.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Detroit News on July 14, 2018

Police officers and firefighters are now no longer excluded from Michigan’s right-to-work law, due to last month’s U.S Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. The 5-4 decision granted freedom to nearly 5 million public sector workers across the country by ruling that they no longer have to pay dues or fees to a union to keep their jobs.

There’s a class-action lawsuit in Michigan challenging civil asset forfeiture. At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering its constitutionality, and state lawmakers consider additional legislative reforms to the practice.

George Hunter of The Detroit News just wrote a piece covering these issues. Three people in metro Detroit allege that the government seized and attempted to take ownership of their property without showing that the assets were related to any illegal activity. One man has been waiting for three years to get his car back after it was seized and towed.

The practice of civil asset forfeiture continues to be under scrutiny in Michigan, as three forfeiture victims filed a class-action federal lawsuit last month. The plaintiffs allege that law enforcement agencies either forfeited property without a hearing or have seized property for extended periods of time while not giving them an opportunity to get it back, violating their due process rights. Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize and keep property without any criminal conviction. Jarrett Skorup, director of marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center, was extensively quoted by The Detroit News on the lawsuit.

The Legislature is on a summer campaign break with no sessions scheduled before the Aug. 7 primary election, except for one tentatively planned for July 25. Rather than votes this report contains some interesting or noteworthy recent bill introductions.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Tuscola Advertiser on June 30, 2018

The state of Michigan operates corporate handout programs that are supposed to create jobs where officials think none or fewer might otherwise be created. One of those initiatives — the Michigan Business Development Program — has given a $500,000 subsidy to Dairy Farmers of America for its Cass City location. Another state agency and programs sweetened the deal with even more handouts and financial incentives, as did the local municipal government.

State politicians finalized the budget for next year, pledging to spend $57 billion, of which $23 billion comes from the federal government. Businesses that made special deals with the state, however, get favored treatment. They will collect $644 million from taxpayers in the upcoming year, and they didn’t even have to argue their case in the budget process.

Last week, the U.S Supreme Court gave freedom to millions of workers across the country with its ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. Government workers in 22 states are no longer forced to pay unions any types of fees as a condition of employment. The Mackinac Center’s amicus brief was cited in the decision.

Even as the state once again approves more dollars for Michigan schools, the notion that their funding has been cut remains a political fiction that just won’t go away. In the latest case, all three Democratic candidates for governor have based their education platforms on that claim, and all three are wrong.

Gov. Rick Snyder has signed his last budget (fiscal year 2019) into law, and it manages to cut more than $10 million, or 8.8 percent, of spending on two major subsidy areas of his own creation. Despite this reigning in of the state’s corporate and industrial handout complex, the state’s tourism promotion wing garnered an extra $1 million for a 2.9 percentage point increase.

Lawmakers approved a new budget containing $162 million in new business subsidies. Unfortunately, holding lawmakers accountable for these votes is difficult and they will not factor into our legislative scorecard on business subsidies.

In a previous blog post, I have highlighted companies that received subsidies from the Michigan Business Development Program and then later filed for bankruptcy. The taxpayer dollars lost by state officials in those deals will likely never be paid back.

The Holland Sentinel recently broke the news that local officials are weighing a tax increase to bump up spending on many West Michigan schools. But a fuller perspective of financial facts and trends should give voters a reason to pause and consider whether more funding necessarily leads to student success before they adopt this approach.