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Michigan Public School Teachers Launch a Non-Union Revolution

Public schools and their employees don't win many battles against the Michigan Education Association (MEA) union, the political and financial behemoth that dominates Michigan public education. But recent victories over compulsory unionism in two charter schools could signal a new dynamic in Michigan's public school system.

Free Trade a Sweeter Deal for Everyone

Economists have argued for more than two centuries that protective tariffs and quotas on imported goods make nations poorer. Despite this, the United States continues its policy of sugar protectionism, which costs U.S. consumers nearly $2 billion every year. It's time for Congress to end this costly and wasteful policy.

Great Lakes Drilling: Environmental Threat or Phantom Menace?

In February, the Michigan Legislature voted to ban the extraction of oil and natural gas from beneath the Great Lakes. But sound policy demands facts, and while there may be aesthetic reasons to support a prohibition against Great Lakes drilling, insurance data confirm that the actual environmental risks are remote.

Gladstone, Michigan: A Little Town with a Big Name

The little town of Gladstone, located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is named after William Gladstone, one of Britain's greatest statesmen. Over one hundred years after his death, the former prime minister is remembered for his commitment to individual freedom, which continues to provide important lessons for citizens and policy-makers of today.

Good News for the New Year: Americans Living Longer Than Ever

There's good news for the New Year: Americans are living longer than at any time in history-76.9 years, on average. This is testimony to both the vibrancy of nature and the ingenuity of man-and the industrial and technological progress fueled by free minds and free markets.

Government "Condemnation" Power Makes Property Rights Less Secure

Government abuse of its so-called condemnation power has unjustly deprived ordinary citizens of their private property for the benefit of big-league developers.

"Teach for America" Success Points the Way to Teacher Certification Reform

Much has been written on the failure of collegiate "schools of education" to properly prepare future teachers for the classroom. Now a new study highlights the good job that Teach for America, a private teacher program, is doing to place thousands of qualified and talented volunteer teachers in some of the nation's most troubled schools.

Graduation Rates an Imperfect Measure of School Excellence

Policy-makers at all levels of government are enacting policies that require districts to measure student and school performance. But one popular method of measurement, graduation rates, may not accurately reflect either student proficiency or school excellence. The only sure way to know whether schools are providing a quality education is to introduce more choice and competition into the system, so that schools have incentives to improve.

Consumer, Not Corporate, "Greed" Is Ultimately Behind Layoffs

A business writer at one of Michigan's largest daily newspapers recently denounced corporations, blasting layoffs by "heartless" businesspeople who apparently relish giving out pink slips. But corporations do not act in a vacuum: they are merely responding to the demands of consumers, who by buying or not buying certain products determine which corporations stay in business and which fail.

Should D-DOT Work Weekends?

Few people would deny that it's normal to want weekends off work. But generous union contracts that stipulate a strict Monday through Friday work schedule for Detroit Department of Transportation employees ensure the city's bus system is less reliable and more expensive. Poor city services in turn contribute to a poorer city, a smaller tax base, fewer jobs, and ultimately lower wages for city employees, including bus mechanics and drivers.

Proposed Legislation a License to Kill Competitors for Big Auto Dealers

In the name of "protecting the public," a recently proposed package of bills would require small-time "curbside" auto dealers to obtain a state license before they could sell cars. But instead of protecting the public, licensure laws are often used by larger businesses as a way to raise barriers to new competitors and restrict consumers' choices.

State Provision of Internet Access: A Bad Idea Whose Time Shouldn't Come

In November, Gov. Engler announced the state would work to wire all of Michigan, including sparsely populated rural areas, with high-speed Internet cable. But rapidly changing technology and differing demands from consumers make the state's plan redundant at best and harmful to the telecommunications market at worst.

"Preserving" History at Bayonet Point

Preserving historic homes and buildings is a noble and worthy endeavor. But it is best accomplished using voluntary means, not the coercion of government "historic district commissions," which infringe on private property rights and often have the effect of delaying or preventing renovations of important landmarks.

Church's Campaign Against Sprawl May Do More Harm Than Good

The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit has declared that so-called urban sprawl is bad, and the full moral authority of the church will be used to influence the Michigan Legislature to stop it. But church representatives could better serve Michigan citizens by engaging in a substantive, balanced debate and focusing on the programs that earned the church a well-deserved reputation for helping to stem urban decline and foster revitalization.

Gas "Gouging" Brouhaha Ignores Lessons of Economics 101

Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm and other politicians are accusing gasoline stations that raised their prices following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of "price gouging." But basic economics explains the disastrous effects that result when politicians get involved in deciding how much things "should" cost.

Michigan's Prevailing Wage Law Forces Schools to Waste Money

Research shows that Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 is a costly piece of special-interest legislation that forces public schools to waste millions of dollars each year on inflated construction costs. Repealing the act-or at least exempting schools from its rules-would make school construction more affordable, save money for use in the classroom, and allow for other improvements to public education.

New Web Tool Enhances Accountability in Michigan State Government

Michigan has a reputation as a "good government" state, with a constitution that encourages transparency and openness in the legislative process. Now michiganvotes.org, a new web site that for the first time posts objective, concise, plain-English descriptions of every bill, amendment, and vote, is enhancing state government's already admirable record of accountability.

Is Michigan Public Education Improving?

Over the past decade, the state of Michigan has laid some important groundwork for improving public education, but the continued lackluster performance of many schools argues the need for more choice and competition in the system.

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime: Re-Thinking Mandatory Minimums

State legislators should reform harsh "mandatory minimum" sentencing laws that limit judges' discretionary powers and dramatically lengthen prison sentences for low-level, often first-time drug offenders-while doing almost nothing to punish the "kingpins" the laws were supposed to target.

Cash-Strapped Motor City Needs a Budgetary Tune-Up

In November, the citizens of Detroit will elect a new mayor to preside over a city steeped in debt, high taxes, and poor services. Regardless of who they choose for this honor, fed-up residents should insist that the new mayor consider privatization of assets and services as a way to give the Motor City the financial tune-up it needs.

How to Make Social Security Secure for More Americans

The president's commission on Social Security warns that benefit cuts, tax increases, or massive federal debt are necessary to keep the system solvent, unless fundamental reforms are enacted. By far the best option for younger workers, minorities, and low-wage earners shortchanged by Social Security is a system that allows them to reap more retirement income by privately investing all or part of their taxes in stocks and bonds.

"Streamlined Sales Tax" Just Another Government Grab for Cash

The National Governors' Association's "Streamlined Sales Tax Project" is being sold as a way to apply existing sales and use taxes to Internet, catalog, and 1-800 number purchases fairly and uniformly. But the project would not only be unfair to out-of-state vendors, it would also result in higher taxes, threaten consumers' privacy, and even open the door to a national sales tax.

Less Government, Not More, Is Key to Academic Achievement and Accountability

A comprehensive new study of Arizona charter schools suggests that proposals to increase government regulation of charter schools in Michigan could stifle, not encourage, student achievement and school accountability.

Private Prepaid Tuition Programs Can Help Make College Affordable

Rising tuition threatens to drive the cost of college beyond the reach of many lower- and middle-income families. But a little-known provision signed into law by President Bush as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Act of 2001 will make affording college a bit easier for many Michigan families.

State Land Use Planning: Less Is More

Elected officials in many states are gearing up to do something, almost anything, about so-called "urban sprawl." But before moving Michigan toward a more centrally planned land-use model, state policy-makers should consider why local governments and the free market are better equipped to deal with local land use issues.

School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?

Proposal A of 1994 dramatically altered the way Michigan public schools are funded, and now many districts are complaining about a lack of money to meet their budgetary needs. But school revenues are up from pre-Proposal A levels, raising the question, "Are there things that districts can do more efficiently in order to better use the resources they already have?"

Michigan Economy Needs to Join the Information Age

For much of American industrial history, Michigan entrepreneurs including Ford, Kellogg, and Dow figured prominently in the emerging U.S. economy. But if Michigan is to lead in the 21st century "information age," then our cities must rid themselves of high taxes, burdensome regulations, and wasteful bureaucracy and begin to think and act like the very entrepreneurial firms they need to attract.

Conserve Gas: Scrap the Ethanol Program

Since the energy crunch of the 1970s, Congress has spent billions of dollars to promote the use of ethanol, a fuel made from corn, as an alternative to gasoline. Almost 30 years later, it is clear that ethanol mandates and subsidies have instead increased the use of gasoline. It's time for legislators to pull the plug on the wasteful and counter-productive ethanol program.

Let's Have Full Disclosure of Union Finances

Under the law, union workers have the right to request a refund of any dues their unions spend on non-workplace-related activities. Unfortunately, lax financial reporting requirements and government enforcement make it difficult for workers to exercise this right. It's time for legislators to hold unions to the same kind of public disclosure standards as corporations, so that workers can know where their dues are going.

Michigan Settlers vs. Malaria, or How the Midwest Was Won

A wet and rainy spring has translated into another Michigan summer full of swarming mosquitoes. But current residents have it much better than their 19th-century forebears did. Early generations of Michiganians suffered terribly from widespread outbreaks of malaria, until thousands of square miles of wetlands were drained to drastically reduce the habitat of the disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Why Not Allow a Market in Vanity Plates?

Michigan, like many other states, allows motorists to purchase for their vehicles "vanity" license plates that carry unique combinations of letters and numbers, such as "GO BLUE." Rather than charging a flat fee for each unique vanity plate, the state should auction plates off to the highest bidder, giving motorists who want the same plate a chance to buy it and raising additional revenues to fund state transportation needs.

Fighting Urban Blight or Trashing Property Rights?

A proposal to fight "urban blight" by enhancing the government's power to confiscate private property is a bad idea.

Navigating the Maze of Michigan's Sales Tax

Michigan's sales tax, first enacted in 1933 during the Great Depression, now contains some rather interesting, if not hard-to-explain, features.

Economic Growth Is Key to Environmental Quality

One of America's most enduring popular legends is that the environment is deteriorating and that economic growth is largely responsible. The facts suggest just the opposite.

Myths of the 1980s Distort Debate over Tax Cuts

The success of President Reagan's tax cuts of 1981-83 must be acknowledged so that debate over future tax cuts is informed by the facts.

An Anniversary All Michigan Citizens Can Celebrate

By an overwhelming vote of citizens, the 1851 Michigan Constitution took the state out of economic development and gave wide berth to free markets and entrepreneurship.

Save a Life, Buy an SUV

Federal government safety data from other studies indicate a lower fatality rate for SUVs than for cars.

It's Time to Give Overtaxed Americans a Break

Taxpayers might make louder demands for relief if they understood that as a percentage of total national income, federal taxes are higher than at any other time in U.S. history.

Future Detroit Mayor Could Learn from Motor City's Past

The mayor made every effort to ensure that Detroit's taxes remained as low as possible.

Market Holds Little Risk for Privatized Social Security Accounts

Declines in the stock market present a challenge to advocates of Social Security privatization, who want to let workers invest their payroll taxes in personal accounts holding stocks and corporate bonds.

Homework Requires Teamwork--Between Teachers and Parents

The evidence is strong that homework improves student achievement, especially when it is coupled with strong parental support.

Canadian Health-Care System Is No Model for Prescription Drug Reform

Canada's nationalized health care system, with heavy costs of its own, is no answer to high prescription drug prices.

Mental Health Parity Could Decrease Access to Affordable Insurance

Government health-care mandates to help the uninsured too often drive up premiums and place insurance out of reach of more people.

A Reminder to Politicians: It's Not Your Money!

As the economy slows, many lawmakers and pundits want to scale back the size of President Bush's proposed tax cuts and "moderate" the cuts already enacted by Gov. Engler and the Michigan Legislature. But politicians happily engaged in budget surplus spending binges ought to remember that those tax dollars rightfully belong back with the people who earned them.

Have Michigan Legislators Learned from California's Mistakes?

As price controls come off this month, Michigan consumers will begin paying the higher, market-level rates for natural gas that the rest of the country has already been paying. State legislators have wisely resisted calls to re-impose economically harmful, California-style price controls, and instead are wisely proposing tax credits and other market-friendly solutions.

Campaign Finance Reform Must Recognize Workers' Rights

As Congress considers various "campaign finance reform" proposals, it should incorporate into any final legislative package the rights of workers not to be forced into paying for their unions' political agendas. "Paycheck protection," which requires unions to obtain up-front written permission before spending dues on political activities, is one way to safeguard workers' rights.

State-Run Internet Job Boards: Wasteful, Redundant, and Unfair

Two state-subsidized Internet job banks not only compete unfairly with taxpaying, private-sector job recruitment firms, but also with each other. The state agencies that run these wasteful and redundant sites should take them down, and leave the business of bringing together workers and employers to private entrepreneurs.

Does Charity Begin at Home-or with Government?

President Bush's funding for private religious charities initiative could undercut the effectiveness and compassionate missions of those charities.

"Urban Sprawl" for Dummies?

Public officials must address the problems that cause people to move from cities to suburbs in the first place: high taxes, burdensome regulations, and poor schools.

Electricity Deregulation

Michigan Policy More Enlightened Than California's

California officials remain in the dark about how to properly deregulate electricity, but Michigan's plan proceeds more smoothly.

Michigan Senator James Couzens's Wrongheaded Opposition to Tax Cuts

Michigan Sen. James Couzens opposed President Coolidge's growth-promoting tax cuts in the 1920s. Proven wrong, he lost the support of citizens and his party. Will Michigan's senators make the same mistake today?

Voluntary Unionism Puts Interests of Students and Teachers First

Unions routinely thwart needed education reforms by spending large amounts of cash coerced from unwitting teachers. If unions had to voluntarily earn teachers' support, they would spend more time serving their members instead of playing politics.

Parents Should Have More Options When Schools Commit Academic Fraud

Too many Michigan school districts are committing academic fraud by failing to deliver the quality education they promise. If parents could choose the schools their children attend, fraudulent schools would have to improve or lose customers.

Prohibition-Era Law Is Example of Nanny State at Its Worst

It's time to repeal an outdated state liquor law that does nothing but give monopoly status to in-state producers, raise prices, and limit choices for responsible Michigan consumers.

A Mixed Message to Children: Say "No" to Drugs, but "Yes" to Ritalin?

Every school day, millions of American children are given a powerful drug called "Ritalin" to combat a disorder known as ADHD. But many experts say Ritalin is not the way to help children learn better.

New Year's Resolutions for Michigan's New Legislature

Here are seven New Year's resolutions Michigan's new Legislature can make to ensure greater prosperity and opportunity for all citizens.

Does Giving Government Unlimited Power Really Protect the Environment

The Michigan Legislature recently gave the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality carte blanche to impose staggering fines on property owners for alleged environmental violations. This is a terrible idea given the department's past abuses.

Failed E-Business Deal Underscores Futility of State Economic Planning

Leaders of government "economic development" programs attempt to guess which companies will thrive and create new jobs. But the complexities of the marketplace make it impossible to predict which firms succeed and which fail.

Teacher's Case Shows How Union Workers Can Re-Direct Dues to Charity

A Livonia teacher recently won his bid to send his union dues to charity as an alternative to funding the union's political and moral agenda, which he opposes on religious grounds.

Coming to Terms with Term Limits

Contrary to what some observers are arguing, it is far too soon to declare Michigan's experience with term limits for public officials a failure.

Schools Should Stand Behind Their Diplomas

More districts should follow the example of Grand Rapids-area Rockford Public Schools, which guarantees that its graduates possess basic skills by requiring them to pass competency tests before receiving their diplomas.

The "Patients' Bill of Rights": Get Two Lawyers and Call Me in the Morning

The "patients' bill of rights" being debated in Congress would only encourage costly litigation but do little to improve Americans' access to affordable, quality health care and insurance.

As Values Collapse, Government Grows

Promoting ethical values such as honesty, respect, and personal responsibility ought to be a top priority for freedom-loving Americans. The alternative is a nanny state that passes ever more laws to restrain citizens' poor behavior.

Government Should Withdraw from Attempts to Ban ATM Fees

Government bans on unpopular automatic teller machine transaction fees could deprive consumers of the valued convenience of accessing their bank accounts virtually anywhere.

The Quackery of Equality

"Free people are not equal and equal people are not free" is a profound truth that politicians forget when they try to force economic equality through punitive taxes and regulations.

Opposing Judicial Philosophies Court Michigan Voters

Voters must decide in November if they want a state Supreme Court that interprets the law as passed by the Legislature or one that "makes" law by imposing its justices' policy preferences on Michigan citizens.

A Connecticut Yankee in Bankruptcy Court

Mark Twain handled his bankruptcy at age 59 the old-fashioned way: He worked hard and repaid his debts in full. Today, too many Americans have found a new way: file for bankruptcy and avoid financial responsibility.

When "Local Control" Means Control of the Locals

A proposed amendment to the state constitution, billed as a way to limit state interference in local affairs, would actually lead to costly litigation and greater government intrusion in the lives and businesses of Michigan citizens.

Hypocrisy on School Choice Sends Wrong Message to Kids

Many Michigan legislators and public school teachers choose to send their children to private schools, raising the question: Why shouldn't school choice be extended to all the state's citizens?

Policy Makers Must Remember That Incentives Matter

People respond in powerful ways to economic incentives and disincentives. Public officials must keep this in mind when crafting or revising tax, welfare and other policies that either reward or punish responsible behavior.

Separating State from Church

"Separation of church and state" watchdogs applaud when courts keep religion out of public schools, but where are they when the state presumes to dictate the curricula of religious seminaries?

European Observations on U.S. Public Education

American education would improve if the monopolistic U.S. government school system imitated the many European countries that encourage a competitive educational marketplace between both public and private schools.

Judging How Justices Are Chosen In Michigan

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the proper response to those who wish to change the way Michigan Supreme Court justices are selected.

Time Is Money: Give Michigan Workers a Flexible "Comp-Time" Law

Rigid, Depression-era labor laws should be revised to allow more flexible employment arrangements for America's changing workforce, which increasingly includes women with young children.

Counting the Cost of Prescription Drug Price Controls

Those who argue that price controls will make prescription drugs more affordable ignore lessons from Canada and other countries, where such measures have led to poorer quality health care.

What I Learned in Public School

Choice and competition are the keys to improving education for all students, says a successful businessman and elected public school board member.

Student Fees: Freedom of Speech or Forced Subsidy?

College student groups should earn their financial support voluntarily, rather than relying on mandatory "student fees" coerced from the whole student body.

Toward a Civil Society

(The Mackinac Center first published a version of this commentary in July 1996. As the 2000 presidential election approaches, its re-issuance is especially timely.)

Mandatory Reporting of Medical Errors: Sound Prescription or Policy Malpractice?

Proposed new government mandates on doctors and hospitals could actually harm patients by making care less accessible.

A Reform Idea for Detroit Schools: Charter Them!

Converting Detroit's public schools into charter schools would free parents, students, teachers, and principals from a paralyzing education bureaucracy and allow them to take responsibility for making their particular school work.

Progress vs. Pessimism: Environment Doing Better Than Most Realize

The most recent government data on the environment show that, far from being threatened, Michigan's environment has steadily improved since the first Earth Day 30 years ago.

Limited School Choice Is Improving Michigan Public Schools

Competition for students within the public education system is prompting many public schools to embrace reforms that they might not otherwise have tried.

Keep the Internet Tax-Free!

A plan supported by Governor John Engler would invade consumers' privacy and severely hamper the fledgling Internet economy that is leading the way to growth and prosperity.

The Census: Inquiring Minds Want to Know . . . A Lot

The U.S. constitution requires the federal government to conduct a national head count every 10 years, but many Americans are wondering why census officials ask so many nosy questions.

Are Americans Tax Slaves to the Government?

Americans today are in desperate need of relief from punishing taxes, which consume an incredible 38 percent of the average family's gross income.

Socialized Medicine Leaves a Bad Taste in Patients' Mouths

Canada's socialized health-care system ensures that everything-including hospital food-becomes fodder for political battles. U. S. policy makers should resist calls to further socialize America's market-oriented health system.

Don't Raid Michigan's Unemployment Fund to Pay for Family Leave

President Clinton wants states to use unemployment compensation to provide paid leave for parents staying home to care for their newborn children. Lawmakers should instead allow workers to negotiate "comp-time" arrangements to handle family needs.

Farm Worker Legal Services Encourage Law of Unintended Consequences

Two government-funded programs aimed at helping Michigan farm workers are actually working together to make it harder for poor laborers to find housing.

Lower Taxes, Less Regulation Key to Twenty-First Century Economy

For Michigan to compete in the twenty-first century economy, policy makers must continue to cut taxes and remove regulatory barriers to the information-based businesses of the present and future.

Government "Economic Development" Handouts Rob Peter to Pay Paul

One state program is using tax dollars to lure an out-of-state firm to Michigan to compete with third-generation, family-owned Koegel Meats of Flint.

Fear of Segregation Is No Argument against School Choice

Private schools, which parents choose, offer more racially integrated student populations than do public schools, where students are assigned based on where they live.

Where Are the Omelettes?

Freedom brings the greatest human happiness and prosperity, as the bloody history of Russia, Cambodia, and other centrally planned societies shows.

Celebrating Free Enterprise and One Hundred Years of Kodak Moments

With the introduction of his Kodak Brownie camera in 1900, entrepreneurial genius George Eastman put photography within reach of average Americans for the first time.

Land Trusts: A Private Solution to Protect Michigan Farmland

Dozens of private land trusts are helping to preserve 70,000 acres of Michigan wetlands, wildlife habitats, scenic views, forests, and farmland.

Defeated Watershed Proposal Would Have Drained Taxpayers' Wallets

Michigan property owners should beware of continuing efforts to raise their taxes in the name of "watershed management."

Leave Internet Access to the Market

Government "forced access" proposals would stifle innovation, limit competition, and raise prices in the growing market for Internet access.

What Is Real Compassion?

The original meaning of the word emphasizes personal involvement with the needy, not impersonal and ineffective government programs.

EPA's Bad Science Targets Michigan Farmers

Federal anti-pollution edicts based on faulty data could threaten the state's agriculture industry.

Deauthorization: The Union Workers' Trump Card

Private-sector workers can hold an unresponsive union accountable by voting to withhold their dues payments.

MEGA: Real Jobs or Smoke and Mirrors?

One state program takes credit for 74,000 jobs, but a closer look reveals its claims to be greatly exaggerated.