Mandate more music, restrict fracking, surrogate moms and more
The House and Senate held pro-forma sessions this week with no votes. Therefore, this report continues its series of describing some of this year’s interesting or noteworthy bill introductions.
Senate Bill 718 and House Bill 5284: Mandate school music classes
Introduced by Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D) and Rep. Erika Geiss (D), to require that public schools provide children in grades K-5 with 90 minutes of music instruction a week, taught by an instructor who has particular academic credentials specified in the bill. SB 718 would impose a quota of one of these instructors for every 400 children in a school, and in HB 5284 the quota would be one for every 650. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
Senate Bill 720 and House Bill 5232: Tighten process for imposing "historic district" property owner restrictions
Introduced by Sen. Peter MacGregor (R) and Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R), to revise the procedure for establishing or eliminating local “historic districts,” whose appointed boards have the power to restrict the improvements that property owners may make to their buildings and land. The bill would require two-thirds of the property owners in the affected to give preliminary approval before the process of creating a district could be initiated, and a majority of voters in the community would have to approve it in an election before the district’s restrictions could be imposed. The bill would also put a 10 year sunset on these restrictions, which could be renewed only by another vote of the people. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
Senate Bill 741: Revise healthcare facility rationing (“Certificate of Need”)
Introduced by Sen. Rick Jones (R), to revise the state “Certificate of Need” (CON) program, which rations the availability of health care facilities and technology. The bill would remove cone-beam dental imaging equipment from the list of items for which a company must get government approval before it can be installed in a Michigan facility. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
Senate Bill 780: Make particular symbol the “emblem” of fallen service members
Introduced by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R), to establish in statute that a symbol created by a particular private organization (“Honor and Remember, Inc.”) is the state’s official emblem for armed service members killed in the line of duty, and no other private organization’s symbol. Senate Bill 781 would give this group the privilege of raising money through state specialty license plate sales. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
Senate Bill 810: Ban concealed pistol permit to people on federal terrorist watch list
Introduced by Sen. Rebekah Warren (D), to prohibit an individual on a federal terrorist watch list from getting a concealed pistol permit. Use of this list for other purposes has been criticized due to its high number of names that are reportedly false positives. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
Senate Bill 811: Permit surrogate mother contracts
Introduced by Sen. Rebekah Warren (D), to permit “gestational surrogate parentage” contracts. A 1988 law banned all surrogate mother contracts that require a woman to “relinquish her parental or custodial rights” to a child she bears whether she conceived the child or an embryo was implanted. The proposed new law would permit the latter – contracting for a woman to bear and relinquish an implanted child to whom she is not related – subject to various conditions specified in the bill and with the approval of a court in advance. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
House Bill 5307: Expand school vision testing
Introduced by Rep. Amanda Price (R), to require public schools to give vision screening exams to all students in grades 3, 6 and 8. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
House Bill 5316: Close schools used as presidential polling place on election day
Introduced by Rep. George T. Darany (D), to allow schools that are used as polling places for a presidential primary election to close on election day without this counting against the number of days that current law requires them to be in session. See also House Bill 5153, introduced by Democratic Rep. George T. Darany, which would automatically close all schools used as polling places on any election day. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
House Bill 5353: Borrow $1 billion for water, sewer and other infrastructure projects
Introduced by Rep. Andy Schor (D), to place before voters in the November general election a proposal to borrow $1 billion for unspecified infrastructure improvements to water and sewer systems, and also other purposes such as improvements to government buildings. The state would commit its full faith and credit to repaying this additional debt. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
House Bill 5366: Impose new regulations on gas and oil “fracking”
Introduced by Rep. Sarah Roberts (D), to ban issuing any new permits for the extraction of natural gas or oil using the hydraulic fracturing process unless the legislature enacts a more restrictive regulatory, disclosure and public notice regimes described in the bill. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
House Bill 5370: Impose “fracking” pollution presumption
Introduced by Rep. Julie Plawecki (D), to establish as a rebuttable presumption for legal liability, that any groundwater contamination “in the vicinity” of an oil or gas well using the hydraulic fracturing extraction process was caused by the chemicals used in that process. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
An initiative that may appear on Colorado’s November’s ballot would, if adopted, nearly triple the state’s current cigarette excise tax. This, we believe the evidence shows, will usher in a wave of cigarette smuggling and other undesirable consequences.
Voters should think twice before adopting this tax increase. Research shows high excise taxes invite scofflaws to traffic in illicit cigarettes, encourage corruption among public officials and trigger violence against people, property and police.
We created a statistical model in 2008 to measure how many packs of cigarettes are smuggled into or out of American states and have updated it routinely since then. In our latest analysis, which uses data through 2013, we find that Colorado has a relatively low smuggling rate of about 12 percent. Most of the smuggling comes from what we call “casual” smuggling.
The casual smuggler is the Coloradan who crosses into a different city, county, state or taxing jurisdiction to buy cigarettes, or buys them online. The key is that the person buys cigarettes for his or her own use. Contrast this with “commercial” smuggling, which is an organized crime that brings in truckloads of cigarettes from distant locales to be sold illegally in Colorado. This happens all over the country — for example, cigarettes with Virginia tax stamps have been confiscated in California. (A tax stamp is evidence that the pack is subject to the taxing authority of a particular state.)
We have spent much of our working lives since 2006 studying cross-border economic activities, including cross-border tax avoidance and evasion. When cigarettes are involved, we typically call both tax avoidance and tax evasion “smuggling,” although not all tax avoidance is illegal. Using our statistical model, we have calculated what would happen if Colorado were to increase its excise tax from 84 cents per pack to $2.59 per pack.
Our model tells us that smuggling would leap from 12 percent of all cigarettes consumed to a stunning 36 percent, a tripling of the smuggling rate to go with the tripling of the excise tax. Half of those smokes would come from casual smuggling and half from commercial smuggling.
About half the smuggled cigarettes would be bought in from nearby states with lower excise taxes, including Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. The other half would come from more distant states, but only Kansas separates Colorado from the lowest taxed cigarettes in the country: Missouri, which levies just 17 cents of tax per pack. It would be naive to think that smuggled cigarettes wouldn’t roll into Colorado by the truckload from Missouri and more distant states if this tax hike were adopted by voters.
We are not the only scholars to calculate smuggling rates nationwide. Economist Michael Lovenheim published a study in 2008 estimating the national smuggling rate among consumers to be between 13 percent and 25 percent. Other estimates we have reviewed place national evasion and avoidance rates as low as 4 percent and as high as 21 percent. Studies that zero in on particular localities peg rates much higher.
On July 25 of this year, a New Jersey man was charged with smuggling $9.5 million worth of cigarettes. He is accused of smuggling low-tax (30 cents per pack) Virginia cigarettes into the high-tax ($2.70 per pack) Garden State for resale. Late last year, a New Jersey corrections officer was sentenced to two years for his role in smuggling cigarettes into the Essex County Correctional Facility.
The lessons from these two New Jersey events should not be lost on policymakers. If officials can’t keep contraband smokes out of prisons, how could they possibly keep them from entering a state’s borders? If the proposed ballot initiative were approved, Colorado would have a tax rate nearly equal to New Jersey’s. It would also have all the smuggling related problems faced by law enforcement there.
Public policy decisions require tradeoffs. Raising taxes on a good, for example, will discourage its use (an intended consequence of taxing cigarettes, but a negative one in taxing income). But it could also incentivize illegal trafficking of that good. This illegal trafficking is an unintended and costly consequence of raising cigarette taxes. Colorado policymakers, and voters, should take these consequences into account when they are deciding how much to tax these goods.
Michigan should spend smarter before spending more
Though the evidence for Michigan spending its way to educational success continues to disappoint, its champions have turned to misdirection and misinformation to keep pressing their cause forward.
The release of the $400,000 Michigan Education Finance Study (better known as the adequacy study) was far more of an early summer flop than a box office hit. As Detroit Free Press editorial page editor Stephen Henderson laments, the study “landed with the force of a feather on desks in Lansing.” His call for the adequacy study to start “a bigger conversation” about school funding was echoed a few days later in a Free Press column written by education professors Michael Addonizio and David Arsen.
Where the Henderson column begins, the Addonizio and Arsen one ends: seeking to dismantle the straw man argument that “money doesn’t matter in education.” Ironically, both columns treat some education money as if it doesn’t matter.
The education professors fixed their sights on a subset of education dollars to sustain the claim that Michigan’s per-pupil funding hasn’t kept pace with inflation. But their analysis leaves out more than $1.6 billion school districts collect in non-general fund revenue and nearly $2.6 billion in intermediate school district revenue. As a result, their calculations miss the fact that the state’s funding has inched back ahead of pre-recession levels.
Addonizio and Arsen also assert that the adequacy study’s prescription of $8,667 to properly educate a typical non-low-income general education student is based on the record of districts that operate “efficiently.” Yet they omit that the adequacy study found 19 of its 54 “notably successful” districts spend on average 10 percent less than the recommended amount.
Less clear is precisely what Henderson omitted in his claim that $8,667 is “more than we spend right now in Detroit, in many other urban districts and in most rural ones.” Official government data show that DPS’s 2014-15 operating expenditure was just over $16,000 per student.
The Free Press editor acknowledges as a “flaw” in the study the observation that more money would offer only a “slow-going means of improvement.” Each additional $1,000 per student, according to the study, would increase math and reading achievement by 1 percent. That means funding would have to be more than doubled to make sure one-third of Michigan’s 11th-graders reach proficiency in math.
Michigan starts out way behind academically, and already rates as one of the nation’s top education spenders. Education Week’s apples-to-apples comparison places Michigan at 43rd in math and reading achievement among the 50 states.
Stanford University’s Eric Hanushek has found most academic studies find little or no statistical connection between spending and results. Our own multiyear, building-level study found no match between additional dollars and better results on 27 of 28 different measures of academic achievement.
It’s not that money doesn’t matter in education. How resources are used can make a tremendous difference. Yet without dramatic changes to the education system, most new money will not be spent in meaningful ways.
But serious conversations about how dollars are spent must begin with a clearer understanding of current funding levels.
Free Press covers direct auto sales debate
Michigan may be the birthplace of the automotive industry, but it has yet to open its borders to what could be the future in vehicle innovation.
Thanks to a law signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2014, cars may only be sold through a dealership, preventing companies like Tesla from selling their products in the state because they choose to sell cars directly to consumers. The Detroit Free Press wrote about the debate and a growing effort to lift the ban and allow Michiganders to buy vehicles without an intermediary.
"We see it as a free-enterprise issue," said Jarrett Skorup, a policy analyst with the free-market think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy that supports changing the law. "We don't believe the government should have restrictions on how people sell things."
Restrictions, he said, limit commerce and lead to higher prices.
House Bill 5312, by Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, would lift the ban and allow direct-to-consumer auto sales. Tesla’s closest galleries are located in Indiana and Ohio.
In December, the Mackinac Center hosted an Issues & Ideas forum on the topic, featuring Dan Crane, Associate Dean for Faculty and Research and the Frederick Paul Furth, Sr. Professor of Law at the University of Michigan. His talk is viewable here.
Read the full article in the Detroit Free Press.
Swift and Sure sanctions probation program a success
In 2004, a Hawaiian circuit court judge named Steven Alm launched a new program to ensure that his court dealt fairly and promptly with people on probation. Judge Alm found a simple solution to the shortcomings of the probation program.
The problem was that the consequences for probation violations were ineffective. A probation violation drew only warnings, no actual discipline. And probation violations began piling up. Eventually frustrated probation agents, with left with no alternatives, sent probationers to court, where they would receive a disproportionately severe punishment. “What a crazy way to try to change anybody’s behavior,” said Judge Alm.
So he started a program called Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement, or HOPE. The system is simple: probationers who violate the rules are immediately disciplined (within 72 hours) — every time. If a probationer accepts responsibility for the violation instead of running away or lying about it, his consequences are less severe.
This formula seems to have worked: A 2009 evaluation of the program showed that HOPE probationers were half as likely to be arrested for new crimes or to have their probation revoked and were nearly 75 percent less likely to use illicit drugs. News of HOPE’s successful use of “swift and sure sanctioning” spread and similar programs began cropping up all over the country.
Michigan began testing its own version of HOPE in 2011, when the Department of Corrections and the State Court Administrative Office received funding for a pilot program. They implemented the Swift and Sure Sanctions Probation Program in Barry, Berrien, Isabella and Wayne counties, and, two years later, the Legislature passed the Probation Swift and Sure Sanctions Act, which provides funding to local governments that opt to implement the program.
An evaluation of the SSSPP participants in 2012 and 2013 revealed that they were 36 percent less likely to reoffend than participants in conventional probation programs and that these outcomes led to safer communities and lower corrections costs. Eighteen counties in Michigan are currently operating the SSSPP.
Current proposed legislation would create a similar program for parolees. The Michigan Senate recently passed Senate Bill 932, which would establish the Parole Sanction Certainty Act, an attempt to reduce recidivism and parole violations by using clear and evidence-based sanctions for parole violators. It relies on many of Judge Alm’s insights for connecting behavior with consequences in order to help parolees become more accountable and responsible. The House should give this legislation serious consideration as it appears to hold promise for improving how Michigan handles parolees.
DeGrow debates value of private schools on WalletHub
It may come as little surprise that private schools serve their students well, but thanks to the competition they create, private schools also consistently help raise the bar for area public schools as well.
That is one of the points made by Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, in a recent online debate forum hosted by WalletHub. In his essay, DeGrow makes the case for expanding educational choice to better serve all students.
The debate focused on the merits of private schools, which DeGrow noted are often able to meet the needs of marginalized students while satisfying parents.
Here in Michigan, schools are more expensive to operate and the scales are tipped heavily against private schools by a state constitution that denies the possibility of indirect government support. Nonetheless, a combination of corporate work partnerships and philanthropy help low-income families afford Detroit Cristo Rey High School, which increases students’ chances to graduate college and succeed in life.
DeGrow added that studies have found private school students are more likely to be more tolerant, volunteer, be politically engaged, stay out of trouble and graduate on time than students in public school.
Read DeGrow’s full argument on WalletHub.
Michigan's economic liberty is slowly improving
How does economic liberty affect human well-being? Some of the most interesting recent research in economics and social science has looked at this question. The Fraser Institute, based in Canada, has been a leader in this field with its annual Economic Freedom of North America indexes. Policymakers whose primary goals are increased freedom and prosperity should take note.
A recent news agency interview with Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette illustrated what “taking note” might look like. The attorney general seemed very aware of Michigan’s standing in the economic rankings. He discussed reducing government spending and tax burdens and how it would generate opportunity for the people of this state.
Schuette was straightforward about the causes and consequences of Michigan’s “lost decade” of the 2000s. He was aware and concerned about the flow of Michiganders who leave the state, taking their talents with them.
Schuette’s blunt policy talk could have flowed straight out of the Economic Freedom of North America. The work documents a thesis that is increasingly supported by economic research: Economic freedom is strongly associated with prosperity and other measures of human well-being.
The 2015 Fraser report ranked Michigan as 27th among the 50 states in economic liberty, a mediocre performance but an improvement from 2010, when the state ranked 40th. This matters to the future well-being of all residents, at least as measured by personal income and employment growth.
Fraser research finds a stunning 15-percentage-point gap between average per capita incomes in the 10 most free and the 10 least free states in North America (the U.S., Canada and Mexico). Specifically, per capita incomes in the most free states are 7 percent higher than the national average but 8 percent lower than the national average in the least free states.
Think about that: How much difference would a 15 percent rise or fall in your family’s annual income make to your well-being and security?
That income gap is probably not a coincidence, and neither are migration changes — people choosing to pull up stakes and move to a faraway place. In 2015 the 10 freest states saw a net inflow of more than 289,000 people while the 10 least free lost nearly 125,000 people, according to U.S. Census figures.
The Internal Revenue Service is another source of migration data, based on changes in where individuals live when filing annual income tax returns. While most movers relocate within their state, a large number move to another state.
For example, for 2014, IRS records show a net decline of 7,400 tax returns filed in Wayne County, 1,300 fewer in Oakland County, but a decline of just 17 in Macomb County. The data do not include how many dependents were claimed in these returns, so the actual number of people leaving is much larger.
Where did everyone go?
The data show that 17,655 Michiganders from those three counties moved to Florida, 15,872 moved to Texas and 9,324 moved to Ohio.
The farther people move from long-time friends and family, the greater the human cost. Moving to Ohio is much less disruptive than moving hundreds or thousands of miles away. It takes a smaller “tug” to cause a Wayne County resident to move to Dayton than to Dallas.
What “gravitational forces” are large enough to tug a family far from its Michigan roots? There are many, including better weather. But a growing body of empirical evidence supports the commonsense notion, borne out of the American experience, that economic opportunity is the most powerful factor.
In the latest edition of the annual Economic Freedom of North America, Florida and Texas are tied for the third most free states. To his credit, Attorney General Schuette mentioned migration to these states (and others) in his interview.
He appears to want those opportunity seekers back in Michigan. To attract them, he suggests bold reforms, including tax cuts. The evidence presented in indexes like the EFNA suggests this would be a great place to start.
Op-ed published in The Detroit News
The latest dump of Democratic National Committee emails by WikiLeaks confirms the cozy relationship between the party and labor union leadership, but also reveals how some staffers truly feel about working with unions.
Mackinac Center adjunct scholar Jeremy Lott wrote about the email leak in an op-ed published by The Detroit News, explaining that the documents show party officials see value in unions when it comes to fighting Republicans. But, when it comes to actually working with unions, the DNC views them as more trouble than they’re worth.
The union-DNC alliance does impose a few constraints on the DNC, which staffers both mocked and worked to circumvent. DNC staffer Katja Greeson, for instance, complained about delays involved in getting new business cards printed.
She explained to an irked communications director that sending work to union shops caused delays.
In one email, Greeson said, “Because we print union unfortunately it does take longer than a non-union solution would.”
The emails also reveal that, though the DNC pledges to only patronize unionized hotels, it waives this requirement for the sake of convenience.
In other emails, union leaders reached out to DNC staffers to find ways to help each other and share talking points.
Read the full op-ed in The Detroit News.
More ways for lawmakers to exhibit warm-and-fuzzy
The House and Senate are on a summer and primary election season break. Therefore, this report again explores methods lawmakers use to associate their names with certain interests or causes: bills to grant select nonprofits privileges including state income tax fundraising privileges and property tax breaks.
House Bill 5225: Authorize income tax checkoff for prostate awareness group
Introduced by Rep. Paul Muxlow (R), to allow an individual to choose to automatically contribute $5 or more from his or her state income tax refund, which the state would give to a particular foundation named in the bill that does various things related to prostate cancer (PCUPS Foundation). Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
House Bill 4817: Authorize income tax checkoff for Junior Achievement organization
Introduced by Rep. Brandt Iden (R), to allow an individual to choose to automatically contribute $5 or more from his or her state income tax refund to provide grants to local Junior Achievement organizations. Signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on June 15.
House Bill 4647: Authorize income tax checkoff for Boy Scouts
Introduced by Rep. Phil Potvin (R), to allow an individual to choose to automatically contribute $5 or more from his or her state income tax refund to a state Scouts Fund. House Bill 4648 would convert an existing state Girl Scouts Fund into a Scouts Fund to benefit both organizations. Advanced from committee, pending before the full House.
House Bill 4892: Authorize Lions Club income tax checkoff
Introduced by Rep. Wendell Byrd (D), to allow an individual to choose to automatically contribute $5 or more from his or her state income tax refund to provide grants to the Lions Club organizations. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.
Senate Bill 428: Authorize Red Cross income tax checkoff
Introduced by Sen. Rick Jones (R), to allow an individual to choose to automatically contribute $5 or more from his or her state income tax refund to provide grants to the mid-Michigan Chapter of the American Red Cross. Signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on June 15, 2016.
Senate Bill 570 and House Bill 5109: Give tax break to some conservation clubs
Introduced by Sen. Peter MacGregor (R) and Rep. Jim Tedder (R), to exempt from property taxes conservation clubs that allow their facilities to be used for charitable purposes at least 55 days a year. SB 570 has been advanced from committee and is pending before the full Senate.
Senate Bill 732: Exempt Masons lodges from property tax
Introduced by Sen. Rick Jones (R), to allow local governments to exempt property owned by Masons' lodges from most property tax levies if the property is used for charitable purposes. Advanced from committee, pending before the full Senate.
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.
Price of average home is approaching record levels
Housing prices in Michigan have recovered from the Great Recession. The price of the average home sale in Michigan in the first six months of 2016 was $147,323. This is the highest since 2006, and approaching record levels.
Other state housing value indicators are up as well. The federal Housing Finance Authority’s house price index says that Michigan’s values increased 33.6 percent from the first quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of 2016. That’s the seventh-highest increase among the states.
The growth of housing values is a good thing for homeowners and landlords. But it also is driving a recovery in home and apartment construction. In June of this year, there were 2,853 units issued permits, a level not seen in a decade. This is especially encouraging since it had dropped to very low levels during the recession and stayed there for years.
So far this year, 290 structures with five or more units were issued permits. At the trough of the recession, there were only 22 of these structures that received permits.
The recovery of the housing market in Michigan is another sign of broad-based economic growth.