The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

Ideas Liberals and Conservatives Can Agree On

Plenty of middle ground, even in a divisive political climate

Although the current political climate is fraught and divided, there are a handful of ideas that people and groups across the spectrum can and should be able to agree on.

Mackinac Center Executive Vice President Michael Reitz recently wrote an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press describing a few potential consensus-building ideas for Michigan: licensing reform, a better school ranking system, criminal justice reform, an income tax cut and FOIA reform.

Proposals that are proven to increase government efficiency and economic prosperity should be embraced by liberals and conservatives alike. On criminal justice reform, Reitz writes:

An effective criminal justice system achieves public safety while maximizing resources. Michigan incarcerates more than 43,000 people and spends $2 billion each year on corrections. Prison sentences and prison stays here, which exceed national averages in length, consume ever more money. The state could improve how it collects and manages data to help researchers and policymakers better understand rehabilitation, prisoner re-entry and recidivism; bills in the Senate will do this.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

In addition to reviewing practices within the justice system, Reitz pointed out that legislators on both sides of the aisle have found common ground in the past and could do so again, including on civil asset forfeiture and overcriminalization.

Education is often a divisive issue, but Reitz notes one area most people agree could use some improvement in Michigan — the state’s method for ranking schools:

In January, the Michigan School Reform Office announced that 38 academically struggling schools could face closure after three straight years of low achievement. This announcement understandably ignited concerns.

While accountability is critically important, the manner of evaluating schools could be improved. The state’s Top-to-Bottom ranking merely assesses schools based on average student test scores. It fails to take student poverty into account. As a result, schools that are demonstrating growth in spite of socioeconomic hurdles can be unfairly penalized.

A better ranking system would allow high-performing schools to shine and give families a better tool for choosing among and improving their educational options.

Read the full list of Reitz’s ideas for reforms in the Detroit Free Press.

~~~~~

Related Articles:

Sweeping Criminal Justice Reforms For Michigan

Wasting No Time on Criminal Justice Reform

Senate Proposes Broad Criminal Justice Reforms

Some Proposals for Criminal Justice Reform in the Legislature

Finding Agreement in Criminal Justice Reform

Michigan House Considers Public Records Reform

Expanding FOIA to include Legislature and Governor

Today the Michigan House Competitiveness Committee considers legislation (House Bills 4148-57) that would expand the requirement to disclose public records to both the Legislature and the Governor. We applaud this move; Mackinac Center experts have long recommended an expansion of public records law. We also offered several comments to improve the current legislation.

It’s uncertain whether these bills will reach the governor’s desk; the House passed similar legislation last year, but the Senate failed to take it up. During Gov. Rick Snyder’s first campaign he supported the idea of applying the Freedom of Information Act to the office of the governor. Just this year Lt. Gov. Brian Calley voiced support for the current bill package.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

The Mackinac Center's full recommendations are available here.

~~~~~

Related Articles:

More Transparency on the Way in Michigan

Mackinac Center and Sierra Club Call For More Transparency in Michigan Government

Department of Environmental Quality Must Be Transparent

How We Use FOIA to Hold Government Accountable

Michigan Environmental Office Repeatedly Stonewalls Record Requests

How Many College Bureaucrats Does It Take To Answer A Records Request?

The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear a case on whether government should be able to receive forfeited property without a criminal conviction. But that hasn’t stopped Justice Clarence Thomas from taking a big swipe at civil forfeiture laws across the nation.

In most states, including Michigan, law enforcement officials can transfer property to the government, even if the rightful owner has not been convicted of a crime. (In fact, the owner may not even have to be charged with a crime.) That’s because forfeiture involves charging the property, not a person, with a crime. Justice Thomas calls this a legal “fiction.”

This system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses. According to one nationally publicized report, for example, police in the town of Tenaha, Texas, regularly seized the property of out-of-town drivers passing through and collaborated with the district attorney to coerce them into signing waivers of their property rights. In one case, local officials threatened to file unsubstantiated felony charges against a Latino driver and his girlfriend and to place their children in foster care unless they signed a waiver. In another, they seized a black plant worker’s car and all his property (including cash he planned to use for dental work), jailed him for a night, forced him to sign away his property, and then released him on the side of the road without a phone or money. He was forced to walk to a Wal-Mart, where he borrowed a stranger’s phone to call his mother, who had to rent a car to pick him up.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

These forfeiture operations frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings. Perversely, these same groups are often the most burdened by forfeiture. They are more likely to use cash than alternative forms of payment, like credit cards, which may be less susceptible to forfeiture. And they are more likely to suffer in their daily lives while they litigate for the return of a critical item of property, such as a car or a home.

Michigan has its share of horror stories as well (read about them and how the forfeiture system works in the Great Lakes State here). And since up to 100 percent of the funds from assets being forfeited go back to local law enforcement, there are misplaced incentives that cause innocent people to lose their property.

The answer to this problem is for Michigan to join New Mexico, North Carolina and Nebraska in ending civil forfeiture and permit law enforcement to seize assets only from people who have been convicted of a crime. Learn more at www.mackinac.org/forfeiture.

~~~~~

Related Articles:

Michigan Forfeiture Laws Improving, But State Transparency Still Falls Behind

Mackinac Expert Debates Civil Asset Forfeiture

Skorup Discusses Civil Asset Forfeiture on WPHM

Reitz Quoted on Criminal Justice Reform Efforts

Michigan Should End Civil Asset Forfeiture

Senate Votes for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

More Transparency on the Way in Michigan

Bills would subject legislators, governor to FOIA and require salaries be made public

Next week is “Sunshine Week,” and some Michigan legislators are celebrating by introducing transparency bills.

Almost the entire Michigan House has signaled support for a package of bills that would subject legislators and the governor to open record laws. While there may need to be some loopholes — for some legislative discussions and people sharing personal information with elected officials — these bills would, if enacted, put Michigan on par with most of the states.

Another proposed law, House Bill 4301 from Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo, would require the state to make public the name, position, and salary of every state employee. This would add on to a bill from 2016 requiring the state to list organizational charts, as well as a bill from a few years ago mandating that school districts make public their contracts, budget, superintendent’s salary and more.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

Broad-based transparency laws will often need a few exceptions. But governments should be as open and transparent as possible in how they spend money, and these bills are a few more steps in that direction.

~~~~~

Related Articles:

Mackinac Center and Sierra Club Call For More Transparency in Michigan Government

Department of Environmental Quality Must Be Transparent

Prompt Government Transparency is Vital to Democracy

How We Use FOIA to Hold Government Accountable

Cheers for Detroit Schools Transparency

Union Behind Michigan ‘Dues Skim’ Facing More Corruption Allegations

SEIU Healthcare Michigan has a history of problems

The union responsible for skimming tens of millions of dollars from home caregivers has been placed under an emergency trusteeship to investigate alleged financial malpractice. It‘s just another issue in the ongoing saga surrounding SEIU Healthcare Michigan.

This union is not new to scandals. SEIU Healthcare Michigan secretly unionized tens of thousands of home caregivers, most of whom were taking care of their relatives, in order to, in President Marge Faville's words, ”make sure Democrats get [elected].” The “dues skim” took $34 million of state aid meant for the poor and disabled and was ultimately ended by the Legislature.

But the union didn’t quit: It orchestrated a ballot proposal that would have given them a constitutional right to force private citizens into a government union so it could collect their “dues.” In the process of running this proposal, the union broke campaign finance laws and paid one of the largest fines in Michigan history. The ballot proposal failed 56-44, and after caregivers could no longer be forced to belong to the union, SEIU Healthcare Michigan membership dropped 80 percent.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

Real health care workers in Michigan have been breaking away from the SEIU and repeatedly alleging corruption and nepotism on the part of Faville, the union head. One local union of about 200 members split with an almost unanimous vote, claiming SEIU Healthcare Michigan was spending little on bargaining while blowing money on parties and a brand-new SUV for Faville. Members also said the union was paying for her apartment.

There was an attempt to remove Faville from office, but she held the election by mail, which helped her as the incumbent. Union members who worked at hospitals were increasingly upset about the union’s scheme to “fake represent” home caregivers, most of whom did not know they were unionized or received any benefits from the union. The election fight got nasty with allegations of people losing their jobs for opposing Faville. Three different ballots were sent out, and one Middle Eastern union member compared the SEIU Healthcare Michigan election to Bashar Assad getting "elected" again and again in Syria. Ultimately, Faville prevailed and still heads the union today.

Most of the problems mentioned above took place before Michigan became a right-to-work state. So this tale is just another example of the positive side of the worker freedom law: Nobody should be forced to give financial support to an organization as riddled with problems as SEIU Healthcare Michigan.

~~~~~

Related Articles:

Time for Labor Unions to Collect their Own Dues

Labor Union Caught in Dues Skim Fails to File Annual Report with Federal Government

SEIU Affiliate’s Revenue Cut in Half After 'Dues Skim' Ended

Union Transparency Study Featured in Daily Caller

SEIU Sues Its Own Members for Banquet Hall They Paid For

Tax Hike Cost Michigan Households $1000

Lawmakers can afford to lower taxes

Michigan’s 2007 income tax hike has cost the typical Michigan household about $1,000. This is the total cost over the decade, and while it might not sound like much to some people, it is a significant sum to others.

But the size of this tax hike is not the problem. The real issue is that lawmakers are taking more from Michigan residents without needing to. Thankfully, some legislators are working to try to let people keep more of their own money.

The 2007 hike raised the personal income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent. It was expected to take an additional $826 million from taxpayers for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

However, the tax dollars didn’t come in as planned. The economy has a large impact on tax trends. Total income tax revenue actually fell from $7.2 billion in fiscal year 2007-2008 to $5.9 billion in fiscal year 2008-2009. The tax increases probably meant more revenue for the state than would otherwise have been the case. But the hike also punishes people for earning more, so this effect may also explain why there were fewer dollars generated by the tax after increasing its rate.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

The tax hike was sold as a temporary increase, and the legislation included reducing the rate back to 3.9 percent over time. However, as part of Governor Snyder’s 2011 tax reforms, the planned rate declines were halted and the current rate is 4.25 percent.

House Republicans held a vote on a bill that would have lowered the rate back to 3.9 percent over the next few years. Unfortunately, they were not able to garner enough votes to pass it, with 12 Republican legislators voting against it and one Democratic house member supporting it.

The state can afford this reduction. With Michigan’s recent economic growth, the income tax is collecting more from taxpayers. The state received $9.4 billion from this tax in fiscal year 2015-2016, up $3.5 billion since 2009. The state budget is expected to grow another $777 million this year, and the reductions rejected by lawmakers would only have reduced this amount by $195 million.

Over the longer term the modest decline in the tax rate would still leave the state government with more revenue. Annual state revenues are expected to increase by $1.7 billion over the next four years, well above the cost to the state budget for allowing people to keep more of their money. Thus, even if the Legislature lowers the income tax, the state will continue to increase its budget.

Many lawmakers promised they would lower the income tax, both back when it was increased in 2007 and on the campaign trail. Let’s hope they agree to get this done before the state takes more of people’s money unnecessarily.

~~~~~

Related Articles:

Legislators Should Give Taxpayers the Income Tax Cut They Deserve

Here's Why You Deserve a State Income Tax Cut

This Week in Fiscal Policy News

Families Paying $1 Billion More In State Income Tax

Business Tax Hike Ballot Proposal Could Bring Back Michigan’s “Lost Decade”

Baldwin High School Beats the Odds

Unique rural community bolstered by college focus, innovative initiatives

Isolated and poor, Baldwin, Michigan, doesn’t offer abundant opportunity to a native son with a freshly minted college degree. But Ferris State grad Duane Roberts returned home because he wanted to help those who were coming behind him.

Baldwin is the smallest of the state’s eight “promise zones” that offer a combination of public and private scholarship funds for every local high school graduate who attends a Michigan college or university. In Baldwin, graduates can receive $5,000 a year for four years, above and beyond other available financial aid.

Roberts, a 2008 Baldwin High School graduate, is back in school as the district’s Promise Zone Coordinator. In this role he oversees the district’s College Access Center, created in 2011. Because of his background, faculty members at the school say, Roberts has built strong relationships and credibility with students. Like his predecessor, he leads middle school students on college day trips and older students on overnight trips. He also has helped plan and coordinate elementary field trips that put the idea of college before even younger students.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

The district’s deep and relentless focus on demystifying and breaking down the barriers to college has raised the bar on academic expectations. The school regularly hosts on-campus events with different university representatives. The emphasis on postsecondary learning is obvious throughout campus, including the student commons area that prominently displays flags from many of Michigan’s colleges and universities.

Baldwin Senior High School stood out as the seventh-best district high school on the Mackinac Center’s recently released Context and Performance Report Card, earning a solid A. The distinction doesn’t come from high raw achievement scores but by preparing students better than a demographer’s tables would predict. In other words, the school helps students beat the odds. Nine in 10 kids are poor enough to qualify for free lunch subsidies, at or below $31,590 a year for a family of four. Baldwin’s “CAP” score shows they are doing much better than their student poverty numbers would predict.

Four members of the senior class I met were all seriously grappling with decisions about which college acceptance letters to take. Two members of student government, including a star of the boys’ basketball team, want to be pre-med majors.

Postsecondary preparation is a strong emphasis at Baldwin, but high school principal Calvin Patillo is quick to point out that it takes different forms. “College is not a destination for every student,” he said, adding that the district offers students skilled trades and career education programs.

Tucked away in placid tourist country along the edge of the sprawling Manistee National Forest, a popular fishing destination, the small rural western Michigan school may be one of a kind. Only a few miles from the school, Idlewild was founded in the early 20th century by middle-class African-Americans who had been excluded from other rustic resorts by racial segregation. It became known as the “Black Eden of Michigan.”

Today, the Baldwin school district is more racially diverse than other districts in the region. Nearly as many minority students as white students are enrolled, largely coexisting in harmony. Patillo and guidance counselor Stewart Nasson emphasized the absence of cliques in the school culture as one key reason for academic success.

Both Patillo and Superintendent Dr. Stiles Simmons, two African-American educators with years of experience in Detroit Public Schools, emphasize the differences between urban and rural poverty. In a place like Baldwin, poverty means fewer harmful distractions and less pressure to conform. But the sense of isolation from opportunities is greater. The school is the place for students to take part in organized athletics and extracurricular activities.

Several of the superintendent’s initiatives have borne fruit. Among other things, Simmons led an overhaul of the curriculum. He also got teachers to help in meeting a state requirement to develop meaningful evaluations of professional staff.

A trio of high school teachers highlighted the challenge of keeping parents connected with their child’s educational experience. They said that through bonding and observation, they know what students need to do. Sometimes, one teacher said, that requires them to act like “helicopter moms” to make sure children do what they need to do. That doesn’t mean, though, that the district has given up on students.

“Educators can use vocabulary and authority to keep families at arm’s length,” Simmons acknowledges, and he has tried to chart a different path. In an effort to create a more welcoming atmosphere for parents, Simmons hosted community meetings every month for two years so he could hear from students’ families and understand their concerns.

Talking with people in the community has improved home-school relations. It also has resulted in holding open gym nights and having a partnership with Feeding America, a mobile food pantry for some of the community’s neediest residents.

Simmons’ latest and perhaps proudest initiative is the balanced calendar, launched in the 2015-16 school year. The calendar now has a two-week break in the fall and spring. The change shortened summer vacation to six weeks — no small feat in a community dependent on summer tourism. Staff members see the change as mostly positive. It creates a modest challenge with scheduling the SAT. But it has improved the timing of end-of-semester exams and helped to reinforce programs that have reduced the number of punishable student infractions.

Under Patillo’s tenure, Baldwin High School has begun offering Advanced Placement courses. It offers economics and environmental sciences, and computer science is scheduled to come online next year. In 2016-17 the school added a robotics team to its slate of extracurricular opportunities. These changes have started to shift the campus culture so that peer pressure increasingly pushes kids toward classroom success and on-time graduation.

Based on its current trajectory, the school will keep beating the odds and give more students the chance to build bright futures.

~~~~~

Related Articles:

The Best Elementary and Middle Schools in Michigan

The Context and Performance Report Card: Public Elementary and Middle Schools, 2015

New Context and Performance Report Card in the News

New High School Rankings Available in Unique Report Card

The 2016 Michigan Public High School Context and Performance Report Card

A Glimmer of Hope for Job-Seeking Ex-Offenders

Corrections Department could hire former prisoners under proposed bill

A new proposal from the Michigan House of Representatives would allow the Michigan Department of Corrections to hire ex-offenders. Research suggests that the more difficult it is for ex-offenders to find legal employment, the more likely they are to reoffend. This proposal could provide a lifeline for an offender who is trying to turn his life around — something lawmakers should keep in mind when considering the bill.

Until 20 years ago, the department was allowed to hire people with felony convictions as long as the department director approved the hire. This changed when the Legislature passed a 1996 law prohibiting anyone with a felony record or facing felony charges from being hired for or appointed to a position in the department.

The House proposal would relax that prohibition by creating an exception to the rule while leaving the ban on the books. But it requires the department to create a policy to describe when it could hire a person with a felony conviction and not disturb its operations or create a risk to public safety. The policy, which would require extensive background checks and multiple layers of approval, would dictate when exceptions to the ban could be made.

In 2014, nearly 49,500 people in Michigan were convicted of a felony. Felons face major barriers to employment, especially when they try to enter the military or get a license to practice one of many professions. While few ex-offenders would be hired by the department as a result of a new law, the policy would show that the state is interested in helping former offenders safely and permanently assimilate back into productive society.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

The discussion on the proposal has been measured but, appropriately, optimistic. “[The bill] will not open up every job,” says MDOC Legislative Liaison Kyle Kaminski, “but we want to have the opportunity where it makes sense.” Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs, agreed. He noted that a job at the department might make a lot of sense for a recently released inmate trying to make a successful re-entry as a prison teacher, for example. Pagel added, “Who better to go back in and talk to inmates about life experience and redemption than someone who’s actually done it themselves?”

~~~~~

Related Articles:

Sweeping Criminal Justice Reforms For Michigan

Wasting No Time on Criminal Justice Reform

Senate Proposes Broad Criminal Justice Reforms

Some Proposals for Criminal Justice Reform in the Legislature

Finding Agreement in Criminal Justice Reform

Gov. Snyder Announces Criminal Justice Reforms

Crime Scene Investigations, Guardians Bureau, Rails to Trails Liability

March 3, 2017 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

Senate Bill 119, Transfer prison property to NMU for forensic anthropology: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To transfer a piece of unfenced Marquette state prison land to Northern Michigan University, which will use it for a new forensic anthropology program. This is a field whose techniques are useful in crime and disaster investigations.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!


Senate Bill 152, Increase reimbursement caps for sexual assault exams: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To increase the cap on how much a state victims services commission may pay for sexual assault medical forensic examinations, from a total cost of $600 to $1,200.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 49, Accommodate new model for protected individual guardian duties: Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate

To revise caps on how much can be paid to a professional guardian or conservator appointed by a court to act in the interest of a developmentally disabled, incapacitated or protected individual or a ward. The bill would accommodate a system being tried by some counties of giving these duties to a bureau staffed by public employees, because hiring outside professionals has become harder.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 118, Expand DNR role in “Rails to Trails” projects: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To allow the state Department of Natural Resources to become a National Trails System sponsor for the purpose of taking over unused railroad right-of-ways, or paths along operating rail lines. The DNR would assume liability, for which the railroad would have to pay.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.

~~~~~

Related Articles:

Firing Police, Concealed Pistol Regs, Internet Games Not Gambling

Don’t Cut Income Tax Rate; Do Redistribute $1.8 Billion to Big Developers

Tax Cuts and Corporate Welfare

Charitable Gambling, Special Needs Database, More Corporate Welfare

Senate Passes Probation and Parole Reforms

Recently Introduced Bills of Interest

Detroit Policy From a Free-Market Perspective

Ideas for the city in advance of the Detroit Policy Conference

I’ll be at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Detroit Policy Conference today.

I’m especially interested in the panel “Strengthening Detroit: Partners in Economic Development.” With Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, city Planning Director Maurice Cox and vice presidents from the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and Detroit Regional Chamber on the panel, it’ll be up to moderator Stephen Henderson from the Detroit Free Press to bring any skepticism to the discussion about the value of command-and-control “economic development” programs for the people of Detroit. As we’ve pointed out time and again, broad-based economic liberty drives economic growth more than targeted subsidies to politically connected developers.

As a Tigers and Red Wings fan, I mourned the death of Mike Ilitch and look forward to hearing Chris Ilitch speak about the development around Little Caesars Arena. But my sports fandom doesn’t mean I can overlook the fact that it’s my ticket purchase and not my taxes that should be paying for those teams’ stadiums. (That goes for the Pistons, as well.) Unfortunately for sports team owners and the government officials who love to give them free money, academics continue to disprove the concept that stadiums drive economic growth in a community. Rather, they’re “an expensive psychological boost.”

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

It will be very interesting to hear Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy talk about the city’s criminal justice system. In addition to being a moral endeavor, preventing crime is one of the most fiscally responsible things a local government can do. Post-conviction, there are policies such as reformed juvenile justice solutions, “swift and sure” parole accountability and other ideas that reduce recidivism, fiscal cost or both.

For more insight from Mackinac Center policy experts on issues of interest to Detroit:

I’m especially proud of the stories we’ve told through our “Working in Detroit” series, celebrating entrepreneurs who are succeeding in the city. See their stories at www.Mackinac.org/Detroit and then make plans to join us to meet the next generation of entrepreneurs at the Detroit Children’s Business Fair co-hosted by the Mackinac Center and Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan. This year’s event will be held at the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown on May 13. Learn more at www.DetroitChildrensBusinessFair.org.

~~~~~

Related Articles:

To Boost Jobs in Detroit, Cut Regulations

Applications Open for Second Detroit Children’s Business Fair

Young Entrepreneurs Set Up Shop In Detroit

Detroit’s Taxes, Regulations Keeping It Down

First Detroit Children’s Business Fair This Saturday