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Proposal 1 of 2020: Use of State and Local Park Funds Amendment

This policy brief describes the changes to Michigan's Constitution and the Natural Resources Trust Fund and State Parks Endowment Fund that Proposal one would make. It explains how these trust funds currently work to help voters better understand the effects of their vote on this ballot question.

Evidence Required: A Critical Review of 'Improving Oversight of Michigan Charter Schools and Their Authorizers'

This paper offers a critical review of a report published in March by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan titled “Improving Oversight of Michigan Charter Schools and Their Authorizers.”

Extinguishing the Wildfire Threat

Lessons from Arizona

In this report, we extend earlier research that described many of the historical, political, and policy reasons our nation’s publicly managed forests are plagued by large, dangerous wildfires. This research, published by the Mackinac Center and the Property and Environment Research Center as "Conflict to Cooperation," explained how the management of federal lands has been stalled by a confusing and complex web of legislative and regulatory constraints as well as a variety of conflicting uses and policy views.

Five Options for Addressing ‘Transition Costs’ When Closing the MPSERS Pension Plan

Michigan Public School Employee Retirement Plans
in Need of Reform

This study considers the supposed ‘transition costs’ that would be effected by a state switch from a defined-benefit to defined-contribution retirement system. In it, the “transition costs” are found to be nonbinding and discretionary. In addition, the study offers the state a series of reforms that would diffuse such costs, as well as consideration for the long-term fiscal improvements that would arise from payment of the pension’s unfunded liabilities.

Loar v. Michigan Department of Human Services Brief

This booklet contains the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation’s final legal filing in a nationally known case involving the illegal unionization of Michigan’s home-based day care business owners and providers as government employees. Wright argued the case in the Michigan courts on behalf of Sherry Loar, Michelle Berry and Paulette Silverson, who each own home-based day care businesses.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation sued to end the DHS' illegal diversion of so-called "union dues" from state subsidy checks received by home-based day care providers who watch children from low-income families. The "dues" were funneled to a government-employee union that purports to represent more than 40,000 of Michigan's home-based day care providers, who are actually private business owners and independent contractors.

The case was ruled moot by the Michigan Supreme Court after the DHS ceased to collect the dues and the DHS director stated that these home-based day care providers are not public employees.

101 Recommendations to Revitalize Michigan

For policymakers and voters serious about restoring freedom and economic vitality in the Great Lakes State, the Mackinac Center presents the following 101 recommendations.

Assessing the Costs of the U.P. Energy Task Force Committee Recommendations

In response to the findings of the Statewide Energy Assessment and under a further directive by Gov. Whitmer, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy released the “Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force Committee Recommendations Part I – Propane Supply” in April 2020. This task force was created by Gov. Whitmer in June 2019 and directed to “consider all available information and make recommendations that ensure the U.P.’s energy needs are met in a manner that is reliable, affordable, and environmentally sound.” Their report on propane supply offered 14 recommendations “to better track and anticipate supply and demand, minimize disruption impact, and provide a more cohesive plan for those who are disproportionally impacted by high energy costs in the U.P.”

We analyze the potential impacts and feasibility of these recommendations in this report. We also explore the use of alternative fuels to propane such as natural gas and electricity to provide for winter heating needs in the Upper Peninsula.

Private Conservation Working Group Meeting and Public Panel

Summary and Proceedings

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy invited a variety of conservation experts to participate in a policy workshop. During the one-day meeting, workshop participants were each given a block of time to present their views on private conservation in the state of Michigan. Each described the strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results they saw from their personal and sector perspective.

In the meeting, participants were encouraged to leverage individual decision-making, private property rights and voluntary trade to improve conservation in the state. Further discussion and interaction helped to clarify and prioritize incentives involved with conserving natural areas.

This report summarizes the policy recommendations discussed at this workshop.

A History of Michigan's Controversial 1945 Emergency Powers Law

The Emergency Powers of Governor Act is the law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is using to unilaterally control the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report explains how this law was used by previous governors. Until 2020, it was used 11 times in response to five emergency situations: labor unrest in Hillsdale in 1964, urban riots in 1967, more riots in 1968, high mercury levels in waters near St. Clair in 1970 and for a riot in Ypsilanti in 1970.

[Author's note: See Update and Corrections for the most recent information.]

Economic Development? State Handouts and Jobs

A New Look at the Evidence

This study analyzing the impact of several major economic development programs run by the state of Michigan dating back to 1983. The authors use the National Establishment Time Series database to track the performance of firms that were offered some form of fiscal incentive from the state. It compares those firms' job growth to those of similar firms that were not offered incentives.

This analysis finds that only three of the nine programs studied had a statistically significant positive impact on job growth for firms that were offered incentives, but this job growth came at a significant cost: on average, the state offered nearly $600,000 worth of incentives for every job created.

The 2020 Midland County Dam Failure

Over 2,500 homes and buildings were damaged by flooding in mid-Michigan on May 19, 2020, when an aging dam failed on the Tittabawassee River, causing the cascading failure of a second dam immediately downstream. Initial reports indicated that as many as 150 homes and businesses were damaged beyond repair. Approximately 11,000 residents were hurriedly evacuated ahead of the flooding that caused as much as $200 million in damages.

This report examines the circumstances that contributed to the failure of these dams. 

How to Analyze Occupational Licensing Laws

A Model Review Process

This report makes the case for regularly reviewing occupational licensing laws. These laws can create needless barriers to jobs and raise prices for consumers. To determine which licenses are helpful and which ones are not, it explains how to analyze occupational licensing laws and provides four examples of reviewed licenses.

Michigan's Regulatory Crimes: Bureaucrats' Hidden Criminal Law

This report explains why assigning criminal penalties to administrative rules and regulations should worry anyone concerned about the rule of law and the potential for abuse in the administration of criminal justice. It describes several reasons why allowing administrative agencies determine what is criminal behavior is problematic, using examples from Michigan’s administrative rules. It also outlines some basic principles that should help guide efforts to reform Michigan’s regulatory code and practice.

Student Mobility Scholarships: Helping Families Access the Best Schools

Michigan could support low-income families’ efforts to transport their children to better schools and boost these children’s chances for upward socioeconomic mobility by creating Student Mobility Scholarships. A transportation scholarship plan is rooted in the idea of providing a more level playing field for Michigan's most economically disadvantaged families. The idea is for the state to assist qualifying families in paying some of the costs incurred from transporting a student to a school of their choice.

Protecting the Secret Ballot: The Dangers of Union Card Check

A secret ballot election is one where individuals get to make a private choice based on their own personal decision, and this is how most unions certification elections work. However, unions can also become certified to be the exclusive bargaining representative of a workplace through a process known as "card check." Under this method, unions can "win" an election when a majority of the workers sign authorization cards. The significant downside to elections via card check is that workers can easily be pressured, intimidated and even coerced into signing cards because they are not afforded the privacy of a voting booth.

Unions have repeatedly lobbied to make it easier for them to use card check elections, and a new bill in Congress would do just that: the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. This report explains why certain provisions of the PRO Act are problematic, and why it is important to protect the right of workers to use the secret ballot for union certification elections.

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2019

This is the 17th edition of the Mackinac Center's annual school privatization survey. We ask every school district in the state if they outsource one of the three main noninstructional services — custodial, transportation and food services. The results from this year's survey show that 69.7% of school districts contract out for at least one of these services.

The Wayfair Decision: How Michigan Policymakers Should Respond

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair last June overturned decades of precedent governing which businesses states could subject to collection and remittance requirements for sales taxes. This report offers guidance on how Michigan should modify its tax laws to implement these new taxation standards. It raises important questions that lawmakers should consider before subjecting new businesses and entrepreneurs to new tax collection requirements.

Workforce Development in Michigan

This report provides a survey of existing workforce development efforts in Michigan, both public and private. It includes a review of career and technical education provided by K-12 school districts, occupational training programs provided through community colleges, as well as job training offered by for-profit entities, unions, industry associations and private, nonprofit organizations. After reviewing these current programs, the report offers general skepticism about the ability of the state to provide the type of workforce development that many politicians claim is needed.

Multilateral Disarmament: A State Compact to End Corporate Welfare

This study provides a plan for how states can end the harmful competition that the practice of corporate welfare encourages. It describes why corporate welfare is damaging to local and state economies and a zero-sum game from a national perspective. It also ranks the states based on how many handouts they make to favored businesses.

In addition, it offers an entirely new strategy to end policies that economists agree are wasteful. By entering into a state compact, as they are authorized to do under the U.S. Constitution, states could agree not to offer preferential tax treatment or other subsidies in an attempt to lure businesses into their borders. Instead, states will compete as they were designed to under the U.S. Constitution, based on regulatory burdens, business culture and broad-based tax policy.

Ending the Skimming of Union Dues from Federal Child Care Funds

This report, jointly published by the Freedom Foundation and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, outlines how the federal government can put an end to the inappropriate use of funding for two federal programs: the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Child Care and Development Fund. Despite Supreme Court rulings against the practice, several states still allow unions to siphon off dues payments from these funds intended to support home care and child care services for low-income families and the disabled.

A Primer on Michigan's Criminal Justice System

This report describes the basics of how Michigan’s criminal justice system works: explaining some essential features of criminal law, the various layers of law enforcement, adjudication processes, prison policy and more. Unlike most policy papers, however, this report is meant to be strictly descriptive. That is, it does not attempt to judge the effectiveness of Michigan’s current criminal justice system or provide policy recommendations. It is hoped that the information contained here will contribute to more informed debate about how to best improve Michigan’s criminal justice system.

Questions for Appropriators

This questionnaire was developed to guide lawmakers as they scrutinize agency budget requests. In both good times and bad, the sum of these requests will always exceed available revenues. Government agencies’ and program budgets should never operate on auto-pilot. By following this template and obtaining basic information about each program’s origin, purpose, performance, legal authority, funding history and federal connections, policymakers can then hone in on specific changes to consider for the programs — including funding or staffing levels, performance measures and legislative reforms.

The conversation this information will spark can help forge agreement about how to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of Michigan residents and how to use the final state budget to best serve the needs of the public. Careful consideration of spending priorities such as this can boost public confidence in state government and elected officials.

From Prohibited to Permitted: A Legal History of Corporate Handouts in Michigan

Elected officials today regularly try to woo large companies into locating to their state or city by offering them special tax treatment or subsidizing them in some way. States and cities compete with each other in this regard — Michigan is no exception — and this competition makes national headlines when well-known companies choose to relocate or expand. With this in mind, one might reasonably assume that publicly funded economic development is a long-standing, firmly established practice. But that’s not the case in Michigan.

This report chronicles the history of Michigan Supreme Court decisions on this issue. It is not a formal legal review of the case law, but rather a historical account of the most important cases, spanning from Michigan’s earliest days as a new state to the ratification of the current constitution in 1963. The narrative that unfolds will surprise those not familiar with Michigan’s unique experience with taxpayer-funded corporate handouts.

Conflict to Cooperation: Collaborative Management of Federal Lands in Michigan

The actions of federal land managers can often set private landowners and the general public at odds with government agencies. This conflict can take several forms: overly strict rule enforcement, intractability in settling boundary disputes, delays in issuing permits and stringent restrictions on accessing public lands. This paper reviews some of the laws governing federal lands, as well as describes some of the conflicts that have arisen. It then gives examples of collaborative management approaches that have avoided or resolved conflicts in Michigan and around the country. Applying them more frequently in Michigan could help reduce conflicts across the state and lead to improved environmental outcomes, as well as increased public access to Michigan’s national forests.

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2018

This is the 16th edition of the Mackinac Center's annual school privatization survey. We ask every school district in the state if they outsource one of the three main noninstructional services — custodial, transportation and food services. The results from this year's survey show that 70.5 percent of school districts contract out for at least one of these services.

How Bail Works in Michigan and Recommendations for Reform

Bail is the process by which criminal defendants secure their release while awaiting trial. It allows people who have been charged with a crime to be released from police custody. In recent years, the criminal justice system has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum because cash bail has come to be imposed on so many criminal defendants. Data increasingly indicate that releasing a defendant pretrial has a significant impact on his long-term prospects. It affects the defendant’s ability to retain his housing, employment, and child custody, the probability that he will go on to commit another crime and even the likelihood of a favorable legal outcome in his case.

Research has also revealed that the majority of jail inmates are legally innocent but are being detained because they cannot afford to bail out before and during their trial. This imposes large costs on local governments but provides no clear public safety benefit. Finally and most importantly, states with misguided pretrial release policies may infringe on defendants’ liberty interests, opening themselves up to litigation and the risk of an injustice. For these reasons, stakeholders and practitioners in Michigan should work to understand the purpose of bail and implement the best pretrial practices for respecting individual rights and public resources.

This report explains in detail how the bail process works and provides recommendations for reforming it in a way that benefits criminal defendants, the court system and taxpayers.

Proposal 2 of 2018: An Explainer and Key Arguments

This policy brief describes the history of redistricting and how it is currently practiced in Michigan and in other states. It also explains Proposal 2 and how redistricting would work if it is passed. Finally, it presents an equal number of arguments for and against the proposal.

Roads in Michigan: Quality, Funding and Recommendations

This study examines the funding and condition of Michigan’s roads and bridges and presents policy recommendations regarding them. The first section of this study describes the different types of roads in Michigan, which government entity is responsible for each type and their current estimated condition. The section after that explains how road funding works. The next section then discusses how public goods such as roads should be priced and funded, based on standard economic theory. It also attempts to measure the level to which Michigan’s roads are underpriced and underfunded. The final section concludes with some policy recommendations.

Choices & Voices: A Survey of Michigan Charter School Parents

Choices & Voices

This report highlights the results of a survey of nearly 1,500 parents of charter school students in Michigan. Charter schools are state-funded, tuition-free schools of choice, authorized by public agencies such as universities and community colleges.

The survey asks parents questions concerning their satisfaction with charter schools, why they chose to leave their district-run school, difficulties they may have faced enrolling in a charter school and ideas for improvements, among others. The goal of this survey is to better inform policymakers about the on-the-ground experience parents have with charter schools, so that they might pursue policies that improve Michigan's charter schools.

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What's Wrong With Michigan's No-Fault Automobile Insurance

A PDF copy of this study is available.

On Oct. 1, 1973, Michigan joined a growing number of states in adopting a “no-fault” automobile insurance law, which has remained in tack ever since. This policy brief outlines the variety of problems plaguing Michigan's auto insurance laws and explains why these issues are leading to the most expensive car insurance premiums in the nation.

The brief also describes several reform ideas for how to fix Michigan's no-fault insurance system. These reforms would maintain the no-fault approach to car insurance, but would put downward pressure on premiums, a benefit that would be enjoyed by all Michigan drivers.

A Survey of Michigan Parents Who Use School Choice

This report highlights the results of a survey conducted of Michigan parents who exercise some form of public school choice for their children. Among the diverse group of 837 parents from across the state who were interviewed, substantial majorities gave high marks to their chosen schools, said the experience boosted their expectations of their children’s future success and would likely recommend choice options to other parents. Respondents also said that information they receive from other parents influences their school choice decisions, in addition to published school performance data and in-person visits. Survey results further revealed that most parents highly value academics in making their decision, though safety and discipline are leading considerations as well.

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2017

Click here to view the PDF of the full study.

This is the 15th edition of the Mackinac Center's annual school privatization survey. We ask every school district in the state if they outsource one of the three main noninstructional services — custodial, transportation and food services. The results from this year's survey show that 71.5 percent of school districts contract out for at least one of these services.

How School Funding Works in Michigan

Discussions about school funding can create more confusion than clarity. Each state has its own intricacies and peculiarities. Michigan is no exception. Funding flows down from different sources, often based on different formulas and intended for different purposes. There’s no one unified system that controls school funding — rather, schools rely on a number of systems layered on top of each to supply them with resources.

This publication presents a brief overview of some of the key components of Michigan’s school funding system, if it can be called that. The goal is to provide a general understanding of how tax dollars reach schools and what they are intended for.

How to Stop the 'Dues Skim' of Federal Home Health Care and Child Care Funding

A PDF copy of this study is available.

Introduction

United States taxpayers currently spend $545 billion annually on the federal government’s Medicaid program. This money is meant to aid the disabled and vulnerable and to support low-income families. However, millions of these dollars are being redirected before they ever reach the people they are meant to support.

About $41.5 billion of Medicaid funds are sent to states through the Home and Community-Based Services “waiver” program.This waiver allows those eligible for Medicaid — individuals suffering from a disability, illness or other affliction — to use these funds to pay for in-home care, as opposed to enrolling in an institution. These in-home services are often provided by family members or friends, or other local, independent providers. Medicaid payments are sent directly to these providers on behalf of their Medicaid-eligible “client.”