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Overcriminalizing the Wolverine State: A Primer and Possible Reforms for Michigan

(Editor’s note: This paper was co-authored with James R. Copland and Isaac Gorodetski and jointly published with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research).

At present, Michigan’s vast, disorganized criminal law inherently places the Wolverine State’s residents at risk of unintentionally violating a growing array of regulatory crimes that are difficult to discover and understand. The complexity of administrating such a criminal code threatens to divert scarce resources away from the enforcement of serious violent and property crimes. This study analyzes the size and scope of Michigan’s criminal law and makes policy recommendations aimed at curbing this “overcriminalization.”

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2014

The growth of school support service privatization has slowed. The 2014 survey shows that the percentage of school districts that contract out for food, custodial or transportation services increased just 0.4 percentage points, the smallest growth recorded since the survey began. Each service, however, increased and satisfaction with contracting remains high.

Making Michigan Right-to-Work: Implementation Problems in Public Schools

This paper examines how public school districts responded to Michigan's 2012 “right-to-work” law. It describes the key findings from reviews of more than 500 teacher collective bargaining agreements. It also raises several questions about the legality of some union contracts with regard to this new law.

Approximately 75 percent of districts with contracts subject to the right-to-work law removed language that would require employees to financially support a union as a condition of employment. Both legal and policy questions are raised by the remaining 25 percent of districts, which kept mandatory dues language in one way or another, despite having a contract that took effect or was modified after the law's effective date.

The study describes five issues with these contracts. Twenty-three contracts made no apparent changes and kept mandatory dues language. Eight districts created a separate agreement to require mandatory dues payment. Fifteen contracts were ratified before they would be subject to the right-to-work law, but then didn’t take effect until much later. Five contracts made only the mandatory dues language immediately effective, while delaying the rest of the contract. Finally, at least six districts have modified parts of their contract without making the rest of it compliant with the right-to-work law.

Proposal 1 of 2014: Summary and Assessment

Download the full study here.

On Aug. 5 Michigan voters will be asked to approve or reject Proposal 1, which would modify the state’s personal property tax. The legislation that would go into effect if Proposal 1 were approved by voters creates three new exemptions for certain businesses that are currently subject to the personal property tax; it does not eliminate the personal property tax. Commercial and industrial businesses with less than $80,000 of personal property will be exempt, and, eventually, all manufacturing personal property will be exempt. These exemptions amount to an estimated $600 million tax cut when fully implemented.

The package of bills includes a mechanism for reimbursing local government units for the revenue lost from these new exemptions. The state would set aside a portion of the statewide Use tax revenue, and use this revenue to reimburse local governments. It is estimated that local governments will be reimbursed for the entirety of the revenue lost due to the personal property tax cuts.

The state would also levy a new, but relatively small, tax on manufacturing personal property that qualifies for one of the exemptions described above, except the small parcel exemption. The state estimates this to raise $117.5 million, making the overall net tax cut of the legislation package worth about $500 million.

Roadblocks to Reform?: A Review of Union Contracts in Michigan Schools

This study focuses on Public Act 103 of 2011, which made teacher evaluation, layoff policies and teacher placement prohibited subjects of bargaining, among other things. After surveying 200 Michigan school district collective bargaining agreements, this study finds that as many as 60 percent of districts could have collective bargaining agreements in place that contain language prohibited by PA 103.

Some districts negotiated with their unions to add language stating that if circumstances changed, pages of prohibited language would take immediate effect. Others simply changed the word “teacher” in order to keep the prohibited language but have it apply to other staff members. Finally, some districts appear to have kept prohibited language without explanation.

This study includes further examples and lists of districts that kept the prohibited language in their contracts. As a solution, penalties could be added to the collective bargaining reform laws in order to encourage district compliance.

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2013

Michigan’s school districts have saved money by turning to the private-sector to provide support services. This 2013 survey shows that 65.5 percent of districts now contract out food, custodial or transportation services to private-sector vendors. This is an increase from 31.0 percent in 2001. The survey covers the three services, satisfaction and insourcing among Michigan’s public school districts and has been performed in 2001, 2003, and annually since 2005.

The Public School Market in Michigan: An Analysis of Schools of Choice

This study examines the use of Schools of Choice throughout Michigan over the last decade. Nearly 100,000 Michigan students use Schools of Choice to attend a school outside of the district in which they live. Participation has grown steadily, with enrollment growing by 144 percent over the past 10 years.

This study finds that students enter districts that have higher graduation rates and higher test scores. On average, Schools of Choice students chose districts with higher pupil-teacher ratios, lower expenditures per pupil and higher average teacher salaries.

A New Turnaround Model: Michigan's Highland Park Goes Charter

This brief examines the series of events that led to the Highland Park school district being converted to a system of charter public schools in 2012. Used as a strategy to help the district eliminate its large fiscal debt while still providing resident students with a local public school option, Highland Park's charter conversion is one of the first of its kind in the state and even the nation.

During the first year of charter school operation, students demonstrated significant learning gains, with some grades posting academic growth far above the average Michigan student.

Criminal Minds: Defining Culpability in Michigan Criminal Law

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently published “Criminal Minds: Defining Culpability in Michigan Criminal Law,” which addresses the element of intent in Michigan statutes and case law. The policy brief is authored by Mackinac Center Executive Vice President Michael Reitz.

Conviction of a crime traditionally required a combination of a wrongful act and criminal intent. But frequently the criminal code is used for regulatory purposes, and those laws often omit a requirement that the prosecution prove the existence of criminal intent for a conviction to occur. Consequently, individuals can be charged, convicted and imprisoned for committing crimes without possessing a culpable state of mind — often for behavior a reasonable person would not think of as criminal.

The policy brief proposes a reform that would clarify the element of intent in criminal statutes. If the Legislature enacts a criminal statute that is silent on intent, a default intent provision would be incorporated. Such a reform could make for a more orderly criminal justice system and protect the rights of individuals.

Electricity Choice Policies in Michigan: Comment on "Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions: Electric Choice"

This policy brief is written by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in response to the report issued on Oct. 15, 2013, by the Michigan Public Service Commission titled "Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions: Electric Choice," (the "Draft Report") authored by Chairman John Quackenbush and Michigan Energy Office Director Steve Bakkal.

Between the years 2000 and 2012 two distinct changes emerged. Between 2000 and 2008 new suppliers were allowed to start entering the Michigan market and competing with incumbent utilities. Between 2008 and 2012 competition was restricted to guarantee a 90 percent market share for the largest utilities. The analysis of these two periods suggests that market competition tends to bring innovation and lower prices to Michigan electricity consumers, while monopolistic policies tend to raise prices. Michigan should once again embrace opening its electricity market to more entrants to see if they can perform better than the incumbent firms, which will drive down prices for electricity consumers. Michigan allowed such competition to start to emerge during its brief era of Full Customer Choice, and the early results were promising. The initial results from a more tightly regulated and protectionist experiment have been by contrast disappointing.

A video recording of the January 22, 2014 Issues and Ideas Forum featuring the author discussing the topic of expanding the electricity market can be viewed here.

Benefits in Balance: Benchmarking Public Sector Employee Benefits in Michigan

This policy brief reviews the growth of Michigan’s state and local government expenditures from 2000 to 2010 and finds that government employee contributions, particularly the cost of employment benefits, were a primary contributor to the increase in spending. This brief explores the kinds of employment benefits that can be received by employees, as well as the recent changes made to benefits in the government and private sectors. It finds that bringing benefits in line with private-sector averages would save Michigan $5.8 billion and provides recommendations for implementing this policy.

Michigan's Top-to-Bottom Ranking: A Measure of School Quality or Student Poverty?

This study examines the state’s “Top-to-Bottom” ranking, which has been repeatedly criticized by educators for appearing to be correlated with school poverty rates. Mackinac Center research finds that schools that serve more lower-income students tend to receive lower scores on the TTB list.

These results matters because TTB rankings are used to impose consequences on low-ranking schools. This study suggests that Michigan should look at how other states rank schools in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of penalizing schools that serve lower-income students. It also makes the case that a choice-based accountability system is preferred, as it would allow students to escape schools that are not serving their needs and reduce the risk of penalizing undeservedly low-ranked schools.

Economic Growth and Right-to-Work Laws

This study aims to measure the impact of right-to-work laws on states’ economic performance. It uses average annual growth rates in employment, real (inflation-adjusted) personal income and population to measure the economic well-being of right-to-work states. On the whole, the results of this analysis show that right-to-work laws have a statistically significant and economically meaningful positive impact, although the results vary.

Medicaid: Waivers are Temporary, Expansion is Forever

This study, jointly published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, examines whether states can rely on using federally granted “waivers” to avoid some federal rules and regulations in hopes of expanding their Medicaid programs in a more cost-effective manner. It reports that there are three limitations to such a strategy: waivers are temporary, subject to the discretion of federal agencies and vulnerable to judicial review.

Berrien Springs Public Schools: Reinventing School — Becoming a District of Choices

Michigan’s Schools of Innovation

In this latest installment of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's new "Schools of Innovation" series, we discuss how Berrien Springs school district is reinventing public school. This study examines how the district has become more racially diverse, enrollment is growing rapidly, and they are using that growth to inject some much needed balance to the school funds. All this has been due to the district’s expansion of digital learning options, becoming a “district of choices.” The effectiveness of virtual learning and the resulting increase in district enrollment have fueled the expansion of other school programs — a marked contrast to the many Michigan school districts that have struggled to maintain their offerings during the state's economic slump.

An Analysis of the Proposed Medicaid Expansion in Michigan

Michigan lawmakers are currently deciding whether to expand the state's Medicaid program to cover people newly eligible for federal Medicaid subsidies under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, commonly known as "Obamacare." A target population for Medicaid subsidies are the uninsured and those with incomes between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The authors estimate that in 2014, approximately 177,000 uninsured Michiganders will fall into this category. Assuming 70 percent sign up for Medicaid, the authors estimate the additional taxpayer cost will be $475 million to state taxpayers, and $7 billion to federal taxpayers. 

The study considers several factors, including potential enrollees that are not considered in typical enrollment projections: uninsured people who are already eligible for Medicaid but have not yet enrolled, low-income, privately insured individuals who would switch to Medicaid, and childless adults and others who live below the poverty line and who would now qualify based on the broader definitions of the expansion. 

The study determines that a Medicaid expansion would likely shift many insurance costs to state taxpayers, while other studies have found that as many as 50 percent or 60 percent of new enrollees following Medicaid expansions dropped existing private insurance to do so. Further, both local and federal studies have indicated that Medicaid often delivers substandard health outcomes and access to medical services. Therefore, lawmakers should think twice before widening the program's scope. 

Michigan vs. Florida

Student achievement, education policies and proposals for reform

This study is an examination of Florida and Michigan's performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress's (NAEP) standardized test, often referred to as "the nation's report card." Immediately prior to and during Florida's immense improvement on these scores from the past 15 years, the state made substantial changes to its public education system. Some of these policies have been rigorously studied and have shown a positive impact on Florida students that Michigan should emulate to improve its static performance.

Proposal 5 of 2012: An Assessment of the Supermajority Tax Vote Requirement

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently published “Proposal 5 of 2012: An Assessment of the Supermajority Tax Vote Requirement,” which addresses Proposal 5 on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot.

The study examines the amendment to the state constitution that proposes to require a two-thirds supermajority vote of both the Michigan House and Senate, or a simple majority vote of the people in a November election, to impose new state taxes or increase any state taxes that currently require only a majority vote of the Legislature. The study concludes that Proposal 5 is likely to provide additional protection against state tax increases, though it may be appropriate to ensure state lawmakers take further steps to ensure the original intent of the proposal.

The Policy Brief was authored by Michael D. LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.