Detroit is Becoming Friendlier to Entrepreneurs

The number of licensing violations enforced by the city has decreased

In 2013, just prior to filing for bankruptcy, the city of Detroit closed 900 businesses and had a goal of shutting down 20 per week through its “Operation Compliance” program.

The city has so many arbitrary and silly licensing requirements on the books, that it seemed that everyone was violating a rule or two, and subject to fines or shut downs. Officials claimed this was done to fight blight and crime, but also admitted getting extra revenue was a factor.

Shutting down businesses for minor violations, especially in a city with so many other issues, hinders job growth and economic activity.

Detroit appears to have backed off from strict compliance with licensing rules. The Mackinac Center sent open records requests for every business license violation in Detroit for 2016 and 2017 and found 252. That’s about 125 per year; far below the number of violations previously being enforced.

Cities, of course, should establish regulations to protect the health and safety of their residents. But Detroit’s are out of whack with other places in Michigan and its burden on entrepreneurs did far more harm than good.


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Neither Inmates Nor Counties Get Out of Jail Free

Michigan counties try, unsuccessfully, to pass their jail expenditures on to inmates

Fans of the board game Monopoly know that, if you land in jail, it’ll cost you $50 to get out. But it may surprise you to learn that real inmates in Michigan jails may also owe that much – and a lot more. County jails in our state are allowed to bill inmates nightly, and many do. But few recoup their costs by doing so, because criminal defendants are frequently indigent. While incarceration is an expensive prospect and inmates aren’t the most sympathetic of people, it’s unfair and unsustainable for counties to expect them to fund jails. Still, if it must be done, we should enact policies that reduce jail populations and give inmates better options for paying their debts.

There are two broad categories of crimes: felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are serious crimes, and being convicted of one could result in large fines, incarceration of at least one year, or both. Misdemeanors, by contrast, are more minor crimes that carry lighter penalties. People convicted of a misdemeanor who serve time generally go to county jail rather than a state prison — specifically, the jail in the county where they committed their crime.

But would-be criminals should take note: Some Michigan counties take the concept of an offender’s “debt to society” more seriously (and literally) than others, and inmates in their jails may be released with massive debts. Here are the 10 most expensive places in Michigan to spend the night in jail:

Source: Mackinac Center FOIA requests to each county jail.

Each county bears the cost of housing inmates in its local jail. The Michigan Constitution requires each county to elect a sheriff, who is responsible for operating the jail. State law authorizes counties to charge jail inmates a $12 booking fee and up to $60 per night for the cost of their housing.

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We surveyed the counties to find out how much their jails charge inmates, and found a wide range in housing fees. At least 68 jails impose some kind of fee. A few jails charge the full $60 authorized by statute, while a few, including Kalamazoo, Mason, Mecosta, Ogema, and Washtenaw, charge none at all.

One thing that all counties seem to have in common is difficulty collecting housing fees. Although we were not able to secure precise figures on how much jails are able to recoup, it appears that almost none of them collect even half of what they charge. Many reported collecting fewer than 10 percent of their housing fees, and for some, it was less than 1 percent. Jail administrators responded to our question about what portion of inmates pay their bill with answers like “unknown, but low,” “very low,” and “very, very low – maybe 2 in 450 [inmates pay].” One jail administrator told us, “It’s like getting blood from a turnip.” These responses reflect the fact that criminal offenders are more likely to be poor, which makes it unlikely they will fund county treasuries.

For instance, the person who is convicted of a misdemeanor and serves a standard 93-day sentence in a jail with a $60 nightly housing fee will end up owing the county more than $5,500. That doesn’t include penal fines, court costs, booking fees, victim restitution, attorneys’ fees, the cost of phone calls home and any purchases made from the jail commissary. One Michigan man ended up owing nearly $13,000 at the end of his case and sentence.

Some people think that inmate housing fees are equivalent to “user fees,” because they let us pass our criminal justice costs along to the people who made us incur them in the first place. That’s a logical stance, but it might not make good policy.

First, who benefits from incarcerating criminals? Society. Incapacitating them by locking them up is meant to bolster public safety. Courts make many criminals pay fines as punishment or as restitution to make their victims whole, and, once they have made these payments and served time behind bars, we say rightfully that they have “paid their debt to society.” But generally, the legal and judicial system is appropriately funded with tax dollars because it is a critical component of a just society.

Second, the user-fee model of financing jails is obviously failing. Very few jurisdictions in Michigan manage to collect even half their costs from their (involuntary) users, making the model simply a bad business practice. Moreover, it’s counterproductive. This kind of debt can pose an insurmountable barrier to successful reintegration in the community, especially because it’s visible in background checks conducted by prospective employers and universities. Holding people back from their full potential or forcing them out of the workforce entirely benefits no one and may contribute to additional criminality.

Fortunately, there are steps that counties can take to reduce their jail expenditures and recoup more of their money.

First, counties should ask their courts to release more criminal defendants on bail. Gov. Rick Snyder has noted that up to 60 percent of jail inmates statewide are incarcerated not because they’ve been convicted of a crime, but because they cannot afford to pay bail. Several other states are considering changes to or have changed their bail system from one based on a defendant’s ability to pay to one based on whether that defendant poses a risk to public safety. Legislation to enact bail reform is under discussion in Michigan, but at least one court in our state has already gone ahead and piloted a program to give all misdemeanor defendants bail. This could substantially cut down on jail expenditures without posing a risk to public safety.

Second, courts should provide indigent defendants with an attorney at the early stages in their trial. When this was tested in Michigan, it cut down on the average length of jail stay by nearly 30 percent in one county, and reduced overall jail use as well. (And it goes without saying that this policy is fairer for individual defendants.)

Finally, counties that cannot afford to do without passing some of their costs along to offenders should at least provide the option to sign up for a payment plan, or allow indigent defendants to do community service rather than try to come up with cash they don’t have.

Even the best policy proposals can’t work without proper funding, something both courts and the state will have to grapple with. Legal system funding issues need urgent attention, and adherence to the status quo is simply not an option.

Thanks to Jarrett Skorup and Chase Slaskinski for their contributions to this article.


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Is One Subsidy Really Any Better?

Subsidies do have a destabilizing market influence

In energy policy, you’re often asked to choose between a few bad options. If you address one problem, you can end up promoting something that’s at least as bad. That’s often because government has a habit of setting up regulations in a way that benefits friends and supporters in politically favored businesses. And of course, when other, competing businesses feel the pinch of those unfair regulatory practices, they push back. Instead of mediating between conflicting financial interests, government officials need to stop playing the crony capitalism game and recognize that, while their actions do help their friends and supporters, they harm consumers and the economy.

As an example, it’s bad when a person in a position of political authority publicly states an intention to regulate markets in a way that will enrich a preferred business. But is it better, or worse, when someone in a competing sector of the economy critiques the plan as disruptive to markets, while overlooking similar regulatory efforts that enormously benefit their business?

On the one hand, the person who grants the favor is honest about their intentions, even if their plan would have harmful effects. On the other hand the competition is right to critique the plan, but often, their hypocrisy is palpable, with the complaint smacking more of preserving an unfair advantage than showing any serious concern for a free and fair marketplace.

Recent news provides us an example. Due to regulatory and financial concerns, many utilities plan to close coal and nuclear plants in the coming years. A leaked draft of a Department of Energy proposal, responding to the closures, describes Trump administration concerns over grid resiliency, which is the ability of the electrical grid to rebound after a terrorist attack or an extreme weather event. The Energy Department argues that closing “fuel-secure” coal and nuclear plants, which can store several weeks of fuel on-site, forces our electricity system to rely on intermittent renewables and just-in-time natural gas deliveries. Protecting struggling coal and nuclear plants by requiring grid operators and utilities to purchase electricity from these fuel-secure facilities, it says, could then stave off a national security emergency.

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The report justifies the plan using a federal law (Section 202 of the 1920 Federal Power Act) that allows the department to temporarily order the “generation, delivery, interchange, or transmission of electricity as the Secretary determines will best meet the emergency and serve the public interest during times of emergency.” It also cites the 1950 Defense Production Act, which authorizes the president to “construct or maintain energy facilities” for national defense.

But all five members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is the federal panel responsible for regulating the nation’s electricity grid, appeared at a Senate hearing and rejected the argument that we’re facing an imminent electricity emergency. Their leader, Kevin McIntyre, clearly stated that there is “no immediate calamity or threat” to the grid from closing coal and nuclear plants. Commissioner Robert Powelson went further, warning that the DOE plan to prop up coal and nuclear plants would cause “significant rate increases without any corresponding reliability, resilience, or cyber security benefits.” He also cautioned that it could “collapse … wholesale competitive markets.”

To be clear, McIntyre, Powelson and the other commissioners are correct. When government intrudes into energy markets, as the draft document proposes to do, it does destabilize energy markets and corrupt normal market pricing mechanisms. Renewable and natural gas generation facilities compete directly against the foundering coal and nuclear plants for shares of the electricity market. So, to the extent that the Energy Department would prop up coal and nuclear energy producers, natural gas and renewable producers lose out.

It’s not a surprise to hear gas and renewable industries attacking the plan. But it is truly odd to hear renewable energy interests directly attacking subsidies as a destabilizing influence on energy markets. After all, they have marinated for decades in multiple billions of subsidies, credits, and market carve-outs. In fact, renewable energy received 45 percent of all federal energy subsidies in 2016 ($6.7 billion in 2016, on top of the $30 billion received from 2010 to 2013).

Could the protests from renewable advocates simply be cognitive dissonance? Or, could they honestly believe that no one but them should benefit from market-destabilizing government intrusion? Either way, it’s difficult to take seriously their sudden concern for the primacy of free markets.

The Trump administration is right to be concerned about grid resiliency and its potential impacts on national security. It’s also correct to argue that fuel diversity and fuel security are the best means of promoting grid resilience, because if one generation source fails, you still have other options. But, the administration runs off the rails when it suggests that the planned closure of coal and nuclear plants is a national emergency that must be addressed with subsidies.

If coal and nuclear plants are more expensive than other options, they will go out of business. That is how markets should work. Requiring electric companies to use them skirts markets and harms customers with rising electricity prices. At the same time, it’s naïve to pretend massive and prolonged subsidies for renewable energy haven’t had equally negative impacts on markets. They have artificially lowered the price of renewable sources and are one of the key reasons that coal and nuclear plants are currently in the red.

So, all of this brings us back around to the question of which is worse, subsidizing failing coal and nuclear interests, or subsidy-addicted renewable developers hypocritically complaining about subsidies keeping coal plants afloat?

The answer is: Neither is worse. They are both awful. We should leave it all behind and go with a third option: Stop crony capitalist subsidies for all energy sources. Let them all compete on a transparent and level playing field, and may the best energy source win.


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Business Subsidy Programs Grow State’s Bureaucracy, Not Its Economy

They’re mostly just in-state cronyism, not big employer “deal closing” incentives

State programs to give particular companies taxpayer-funded business subsidies are often described by politicians in terms that make them sound like a deal-closer fund. These have been created by some states to enable their governor or other high-ranking officials to land a major employer shopping around for a place to locate a new factory or headquarters.

State Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, described his votes for the subsidy programs in such terms in a Michigan Capitol Confidential story:

“Since other states that border mine, like Wisconsin, are going to offer sweetheart deals, we have to be competitive as well,” LaFave said. “So if you are talking 1,000 jobs downstate or a couple 100 jobs in the U.P., I’d be interested in making that possible.”

But very few of the $16 billion in corporate subsidy programs included in a recent analysis by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy were designed to land a big employer located in another state or country. What they did instead was give taxpayer money to businesses that are already located in Michigan.

For example, Michigan’s main subsidy-delivering vehicle these days is called the Business Development Program, and it has no requirement to focus its handouts on competing with other states. To get a deal from the program, a company just has to pledge to create enough jobs to meet its requirements.

In many cases, the jobs probably would have been created without taxpayers having to shell out money. An even more common occurrence is that the promised jobs never come to pass at all.

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Notice how different this is from the “deal closer” rhetoric politicians from the governor on down use when trying to justify these ongoing favor-factory programs.

The two new subsidy regimes likely to be approved by the Michigan Legislature within the coming weeks are also about distributing tax money to homegrown businesses. The first is a so-called rural development fund. This is mostly about subsidizing existing businesses in rural communities, not luring footloose employers from other states or nations.

The second program is labeled “historic preservation,” but is really about writing checks to favored developers who rehab old buildings.

The history of such programs suggests that neither of their new incarnations will grow Michigan’s economy or employment. What they will do, though, is keep dozens of state “economic development” officials employed by, among other things, writing press releases that flatter the politicians who make their jobs possible.

The reality is, most job growth happens without taxpayer money being handed to politically favored corporations and developers. Political deals create only a tiny sliver of new jobs in the state’s economy, and they do so at taxpayer cost.

Programs like those now under consideration are usually presented to lawmakers as an ultimatum to pony up cash or be left behind. This is a self-serving mirage promoted by what has become a virtual “economic development” industry, and the sooner legislators here and in other states figure that out, the better off will be the citizens and taxpayers they represent.


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Whitmer Education Plan Trips Over Charter Schools

Solutions in search of imagined problems raise questions

Last week, the campaign of Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer released an official policy document outlining her plans for the state's public schools. A close look at the document's misleading premises and the candidate's past voting record raises serious questions and concerns.

The agenda's release occurs in the heart of primary election season, and Whitmer's party seems bent on making an attack on parents' educational options a key part of the 2018 platform. Whitmer’s plan, specifically, calls for “stopping the expansion” of charter schools that have contracted with for-profit management companies.

One of her rivals, Shri Thanedar, has gone a step further. He publicly advocated outlawing so-called for-profit charter schools chosen by tens of thousands of students. (Despite the rhetoric, charter schools, like conventional public school districts, are not themselves directed by profit-seeking businesses; they may contract with them for various goods and services. The only service districts cannot contract out is instruction.)

Thanedar's blanket approach would harm educational opportunity, as these schools disproportionately rank among the state's top performers. A recent peer-reviewed study found that 48 Michigan schools managed by National Heritage Academies significantly increase student learning, particularly in math. Candidates for public office should care more about educational results from tax dollars than whether someone makes a profit along the way.

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Whitmer's education plan takes a more subtle, but still misguided, approach, blending false impressions about charters with recommendations that otherwise appear to be serious. Her campaign's website declares: “We cannot continue to let Michigan’s charter schools fail our kids. It’s time we put much-needed oversight in place to hold charter schools accountable.” Never mind that the average Michigan charter provides students with extra months of learning each year and gets a much better bang for the buck.

Whitmer's other proposed solutions to an imagined disparity between district and charter schools all miss the boat: 

  • “Holding all schools to the same performance standards.” All public schools are rated according to the same metrics, including how well their students achieve and make progress on the same standardized tests. Whitmer claims that charter schools need more accountability, but the only way to make performance standards fairer would be to subject all schools to the same consequences for consistently poor performance. Right now, underperforming charters are unique; they face a threat of closure that their district counterparts do not. The question is how much the candidate actually wants fair and consistent standards. As a legislator, Whitmer voted, unsuccessfully, to require charter schools to earn significantly higher state test scores than the surrounding district — just to exist.
  • “Requiring all schools to accept all students, regardless of student needs.” This law already applies to charters. But Whitmer’s version of it could force district-run magnet schools with admission standards to change how they operate. It would also apply to affluent districts with residency requirements that keep out poorer kids.
  • “Subjecting all schools to the same financial, health, safety and academic oversight.” State regulatory standards are consistent in these areas for all kinds of public schools, including charters, so it's unclear what the candidate intends to do.
  • “Requiring all schools to hire state certified teachers.” This is already in the law.
  • “Enforcing strict conflict of interest laws on every school to avoid decisions on academics from being made for the economic benefits of adults rather than the education of children.” State law already prevents anyone who serves on a charter school board from having a financial stake in a school partnership management organization. The law also kicks in if a board member has a family member with a financial interest. It isn't clear whether Whitmer wants to toughen laws on district boards so their members would have to do more than simply recuse themselves from relevant votes.

Take these facts into consideration, and it makes one wonder about the ultimate intention: To what extent would a Whitmer administration impose extra regulations specifically on charters in the misguided name of fairness?

For all Whitmer's charter-bashing, though, one wonders if maybe she is a fan after all. Her call to change the school finance formula to give at-risk kids more dollars from the education finance formula would most benefit charters, which are more likely to serve students from low-income families. That would be a reversal of her legislative record of seeking to shortchange charters.

Most families who benefit from charter schools live in communities that traditionally support Democratic candidates. Given the confusion in Gretchen Whitmer's charter school policy statements, they have every reason to ask just how much she agrees with her primary election opponents about taking away their options for a better education.


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Michigan Lawmakers Consider More Handouts

If at first you don’t succeed, spend millions of taxpayer dollars

Legislators are considering whether to give more subsidies to select companies, and the proposals seem to be getting a favorable ear. A bill to subsidize developers to renovate historical property has been passed by the Senate. A bill to give an investment company $50 million of taxpayer support in the name of rural development has been introduced in the House.

The developer bill would reinstate a program that was ended in 2011. The program only ran for 12 years and has been out of commission for the past eight. I’m not arguing causation with this next point, and there are larger factors at work: Housing development only went down during the years that the subsidy was in place and have only increased since it’s gone away.

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Most homes are built without state favors, as are most businesses. Broad long-term economic trends drive housing development, and they are bolstered by improvements to the state’s business climate, not subsidies to select developers.

The rural development bill would support an investment company with $50 million of taxpayer dollars, and maybe even provide the state a return on that investment. That’s a great deal for the investment firm. But the state’s had little success in partnering with companies like this one in the past. The 21st Century Jobs Fund, for example, was pitched as something that would pay for itself, but only cost taxpayers hundreds of millions.

These new subsidies follow last year’s $1.2 billion of new business subsidies for other developers and big corporations. And the fact that the state is engaging in a subsidy spending spree is odd since legislators couldn’t muster enough votes for a small reduction in the state income tax, stating at the time that it was unaffordable.

Lower tax burdens encourage long-term growth while business subsidies provide a short-term payoff at taxpayer expense. The problem is that long-term growth is spread out, and it’s hard to show that better policy is directly responsible for the growth. Business subsidies, on the other hand, allow for lawmakers to show up at groundbreaking ceremonies.

Which may be why, given how little they actually do, business subsidies have received broad bipartisan support in the past. Opposition to corporate handouts in Michigan tends to be a recent phenomenon.

At the start of his administration, Gov. Rick Snyder called business subsidies “the heroin drip of government.” Michigan lawmakers are going back to their addiction.


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June 8, 2018 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

Legislative Initiative Petition 2, Repeal prevailing wage law: Passed 23 to 14 in the Senate

To repeal the state prevailing wage law, which prohibits awarding government contracts to contractors who submit the lowest bid unless the contractor pays wages based on union pay scales that local union officials represent as prevalent in a particular area. The voter-initiated legislation was placed before the legislature by petition, and does not require the Governor's approval to become law.

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Legislative Initiative Petition 2, Repeal prevailing wage law: Passed 56 to 53 in the House

The House vote on the prevailing wage law repeal described above.


Senate Bill 787, Allow lower cost auto insurance option for seniors: Passed 23 to 13 in the Senate

To exempt a person age 65 or above from having to buy the unlimited personal injury protection (PIP) coverage mandated by the state’s no fault auto insurance law. Specifically, these individuals could buy either unlimited coverage or a policy that caps medical coverage at $50,000, with injury expenses above that amount covered by the individual's Medicare and related coverage. By the same margin the Senate also passed Senate Bill 1014, which restricts charges for long term attendant care provided by family members to crash victims under the standard unlimited medical benefit coverage.


House Bill 5391, Impose regulations on electric skateboards: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To prohibit riding an electric skateboard at a speed greater than 25 mph, and ban riding one on a street with a speed limit greater than 25 mph. The bill defines electric skateboard as one that is “no more than 60 inches long and 18 inches wide, is designed to transport only 1 person at a time, has an electrical propulsion system with power of no more than 2,500 watts, and has a maximum speed on a paved level surface of not more than 25 miles per hour.” Riders could go on streets subject to the same rules as bicycles.


House Bill 4115, Increase nonprofit sales tax exemption: Passed 27 to 9 in the Senate

To exempt from sales tax the first $10,000 in retail sales by a nonprofit organization that has less than $25,000 in sales during a year, rather than $5,000 under current law.


Senate Bill 897, Impose work requirement on able-bodied Medicaid recipients: Passed 62 to 47 in the House

To require state welfare officials to seek federal permission to allow requiring able-bodied individuals enrolled in the Medicaid expansion authorized by the federal health care law to work at least 80 hours a month for at least nine months a year, or be in school, job-training or volunteer work. The bill authorizes exceptions for a parent with children under age six, individuals getting disability benefits or above age 62, a disabled person's caretaker and more.


Senate Bill 897, Impose work requirement on able-bodied Medicaid recipients: Passed 25 to 11 in the Senate

The Senate vote to concur with the House-passed version of the bill described above.


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 www.MichiganVotes.org.


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Gov. Rick Snyder’s Renew Michigan proposal would impose an annual $79 million tipping fee on the waste management industry, ostensibly to “reduce waste in Michigan landfills,” and take the place of the now-expired Clean Michigan Initiative bond. Created in 1998, the bond program borrowed $660 million to pay for environmental protection and cleanup work around the state. Two decades later, the funds are almost gone and the Senate has responded with bill SB943 to increase tipping fees. But, before lawmakers simply agree to spend more, they need to reassure taxpayers that the spending was effective in the first place. They need to answer the question, “Is it worthwhile to replace the Clean Michigan Initiative?”

Voters should first recognize that the Clean Michigan Initiative is not the only source of funding for environmental remediation in Michigan. Then they should recognize that not all CMI spending actually went to environmental clean-up. A report from the Department of Environmental Quality shows that roughly one-third of the money went to the department’s Environmental Cleanup & Redevelopment Program. The rest went to pay for revitalizing waterfront properties and local government programs.

The Environmental Cleanup & Redevelopment Program is the primary mover for environmental cleanup and remediation in the state, but that effort has many other funding sources, including the predecessor to the Clean Michigan Initiative, the Environmental Protection Bond of 1988. Cleanup and remediation work also receives funding from programs like the Clean Revolving Fund, the Environmental Protection Fund, the Refined Petroleum Fund, and in some years, general revenues. It hasn’t received funding from Clean Michigan Initiative since 2013 and is now funded by the Refined Petroleum Fund.

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Of course, most of the money to be spent by Snyder’s proposal would be set aside for many of the same goals that were supposed to be met by redevelopment programs – mainly environmental remediation and redevelopment. The question is whether they have benefited the state of Michigan over the 30 years they’ve been in effect.

A 2008 study from Eastern Michigan University said the intent of remediation and redevelopment programs is “to ‘level the playing field,’ so to speak, between brownfield and greenfield development, limiting risk and lessening the cleanup burden on developers in order to make brownfield projects financially more attractive.” This statement reminds us that the official definition of “brownfield” does not always mean that a piece of land is contaminated. Instead, as the Michigan Sea Grant Program says, even “properties that are badly damaged or functionally obsolete, with or without contamination” receive dollars appropriated for remediation and redevelopment. Any property that officials agree is not a “good” property is therefore able to receive brownfield remediation funds under the guise of environmental protection.

This isn’t to say that the programs don’t succeed in remediating properties. Success stories can be found for specific parcels, where an undesirable location with real, measurable contamination was remediated and made more attractive for redevelopment. The same 2008 EMU study found that “all but a very small handful of projects have been successful, at least insofar as remediation activities are concerned.” It adds that 500 of 1,800 remediation sites have had significant redevelopment.

But, the challenge for the average taxpayer is to figure out if this remediation is a responsible use of public funds and whether those funds are actually being used for environmental cleanups. The Environmental Cleanup & Redevelopment Program spent $939 million on 2,035 sites in Michigan over the last 25 years, completing, cancelling or closing 879 – 43 percent – of them. The remaining sites are either awaiting additional funding, or are still being monitored or worked on.

The properties in question are often – but not always – affected by some type of environmental contamination. But data describing whether these programs could be considered successful remediations or clean-ups doesn’t exist. We can’t tell what risk the 2,035 sites posed to the public, and there is no clear way to explain how much, or even what, risk has been mitigated.

Carefully selected stories of successful redevelopment can make it appear that the benefits of a program outweigh its costs, and we do have a sampling of those success stories. But we lack a full report of every project redeveloped, how much money was spent to do it, why it required remediation, and how many of the sites were redeveloped by business after remediation. That lack of detail makes it impossible to determine the actual, and overall, return on investment.

The three programs — Renew Michigan, Clean Michigan Initiative and the Environmental Cleanup & Redevelopment Program — represent a substantial amount of spending, but they make up only part of Michigan’s efforts to remediate environmental damage and redevelop the environment. Other environmental protection programs include the Strategic Water Quality Initiative Program, the Emergency and Contingency Program, the Revitalization Revolving Loan Program, the Municipal Landfill Cost-Share Grant Program, the Site Reclamation Grant Program, the Site Assessment Grant Program, the Brownfield Redevelopment Grant Program and the Brownfield Redevelopment Loan Program.

All of these impressively named programs – representing a further $304 million in spending since 1989 – are dedicated to environmental protection or redevelopment. But each of them has different criteria for measuring success. It is simply not realistic to expect the average citizen to have the time or resources to track this spending, so it becomes effectively impossible for taxpayers to know what, if any, benefit they are getting from billions in government expenditures.

Protecting the environment is a noble endeavor, and it’s true that the government is successful to some degree with these programs. What’s unknown is how successful those efforts are. What is known, however, is that hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into dozens of different programs that all appear to have similar goals, but no definable end other than cleaning up an apparently endless supply of “contaminated sites.” When official programs end up spending a great deal of money on making properties more attractive for real estate development rather than protecting human health, they become a confusing mass of good intentions and questionable results.


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Lawmaker Blasts Utilities, Nearly Hits Donor Privacy Rights

Gary Glenn’s rhetoric veers off-course

Michigan state Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Williams Township, has made himself a thorn in the side of the state’s regional electric utility monopolies. One reason is that Glenn supports letting Michiganders opt out of getting electricity from these utilities by choosing an alternative provider. He also has helped lead local campaigns against the industrial wind turbine farms that big utility companies profit from and are trying to expand.

Glenn now accuses electric utilities of bankrolling $300,000 worth of radio and TV campaign ads that attack him and praise his opponent in a Republican primary race for the 31st Senate District, which includes Bay City. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the ads are being purchased by two nonprofit political organizations.

Under Michigan law, such nonprofit groups must disclose details of their political spending, but they do not have to reveal the identity of their donors.

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Glenn is threatening to introduce legislation that could start to erode donor confidentiality. Specifically, in a May 25 press release, he said:

Electrical utilities are the only corporations in Michigan who have the privilege of a government-guaranteed 90 percent of the market plus a government-guaranteed 10 percent profit each year. As long as monopoly utility bosses enjoy those government-granted privileges, ratepayers have a right to know how much of the money that utility bosses collect from our electricity bills is being used to try to buy elections and block legislation that would allow electricity customers more freedom of choice.

Glenn is correct when he says utility companies enjoy unique privileges conferred by government. For that reason, it might be appropriate for lawmakers to require more disclosure of their political spending if the firms choose to enter the political arena and become political actors.

But while Glenn has not specifically called for mandatory disclosure, advocates of the First Amendment may see his remarks as coming uncomfortably close to calling on the state to strip away donor privacy rights. In recent years, there have been frequent calls for taking away the right of Americans to donate to nonprofit political groups without having their names and addresses posted forever on a government database of who gave how much to which cause.

(A laundry list of such proposals was included in a concurrent resolution introduced in 2017 by three Michigan state Senate Democrats.)

A Michigan law enacted in 2017 on so-called Super PACs protects the right of donor confidentiality in such matters. Eroding that law would diminish liberty for reasons that were made clear in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1957 known as State of Alabama v. NAACP. The court sided with those who argued that it was a bad idea to give Alabama officials the names and addresses of donors to the organization leading the momentous civil rights struggle then underway.

While most of today’s political conflicts may be smaller in scope, the principle of donor privacy still holds.

For example, after the mass shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015, it would have been unfortunate if the names of the organization’s donors had been posted on the internet, along with how much they gave and the address of where their children slept at night. Similar issues have been raised with contributors to Black Lives Matter, and of course with many conservative groups too, including the traditional-marriage nonprofit group that Glenn himself headed for many years.

Glenn should clarify whether restricting the privacy of donors to political causes is what he intends. If it’s not what he intends, he should say so loudly and help defend the principle that people are free to support particular political causes without having to publicly announce that they have done so.


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State Considers Licensing Naturopathic Physicians

But more regulatory hurdles are unlikely to improve safety

Michigan lawmakers are looking to license naturopathic physicians — medical practitioners who aim to solve ailments holistically through self-healing or natural methods. While it is necessary for some medical providers to be licensed, there is no proven need for that in naturopathic physicians. It is also important to remember there are other factors outside of licensing requirements that would regulate naturopaths. Edward Timmons, director of the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at Saint Francis University, and Jarrett Skorup, director of marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center, recently wrote about this in The Detroit News:

If it could be demonstrated that regulations are needed to protect the public from naturopathic medicine, lawmakers could establish rules for the profession without creating a licensing requirement. Requiring all naturopaths to register with the state would be one possibility. A voluntary, state-approved certification program could also be used. If naturopaths found the certification process valuable for their practice, they could opt to complete it.

As with other cases of occupational licensing, these requirements simply create an unnecessary entry barrier that makes it harder to join the market, therefore driving costs up for consumers. Lawmakers should remember that licensing is not the only option. Often times, the best forms of regulation, such as word of mouth or personal experience, happen outside of government standards.

Read the complete article here.

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