Six paths to a freer Michigan

Last month, Detroit hosted a gathering of so-called progressives in an event advertised as a proving ground for election and governing strategy.

Unfortunately, it appears attendees overlooked the most progressive idea in the history of man – freedom.

History tells us when there is a man, woman or group of individuals who have a dream and a plan to get there, there’s usually a government department, a bureaucracy, or a politician who thinks they can do it better.

But real progress, throughout the annals of history, has run in the opposite direction – away from central control at the hands of privileged elites and towards freedom, liberty and the individual.

With that in mind, here are just six ideas for a better, freer, more progressive Michigan.

Free the hops and the grapes: End the 3-tiered system for alcohol sales

When prohibition ended in 1933, Michigan established a “3-tier” system to ostensibly restrict alcohol sales across the state, and the system is still in place today, driving up prices, driving out competition, and making it tougher for small business owners to create profit.

The system requires beer, wine and liquor producers (tier 1) sell their products to a middleman or wholesaler (tier 2), who are then permitted to sell the beverages to retailers (tier 3). What’s worse, the government decides who can be the middlemen and restricts the job of wholesaling alcoholic beverages to a few powerful and politically connected families. This is pure cronyism.

The real kicker? State government has set itself up as the one-and-only middleman for liquor sales. Anyone hoping to sell liquor in Michigan must only sell it to the state’s unelected, unaccountable Liquor Control Commission, where the state tacks a 65 percent surcharge on every bottle, raking in massive profits to fund itself and adding little value to Michigan’s economy.

The system is bad for taxpayers, consumers, and job makers. But it’s good for bureaucrats, lobbyists, and the politically connected.

It’s time to end this wasteful system and to enhance Michigan’s burgeoning reputation as a destination for craft beer, spirits and wine.

Free the volts: End state-mandated electricity monopoly

In 2008, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm eliminated competition from the electric marketplace, establishing an arbitrary 10 percent cap on electricity competition to give DTE and Consumers Energy an energy monopoly.

It was a change economists claim costs the state 21,000 jobs each year and resulted in energy costs for consumers that were $3 billion higher than the Midwest average faced by other families and job makers in 2013 alone.

Since 2008, rates for families have skyrocketed by over 26 percent. That’s an increase of nearly one thousand percent more than the national average.

Legislation is before the state House of Representatives to undo this $3 billion-a-year mistake. Lawmakers should stand up for families and end the Granholm-era energy monopoly.

Free the courts: End age discrimination in Michigan’s judiciary

For over 100 years, Michigan’s Constitution has forbidden any citizen age 70 or older from being elected or appointed as a judge in the Great Lakes state.

This entrenched ageism isn’t only offensive and demeaning to Michigan seniors, it robs voters of their right to select the people they think best to fill open positions, and robs the entire state of the wisdom, knowledge and experience of many jurists and litigators who understand the law best.

It’s time for Michigan to amend the Constitution to protect the rights of older residents and end age discrimination in Michigan’s judiciary.

Free the roads: End wasteful, unaccountable road commissions

Nearly 80 of Michigan’s 83 counties have a road commission, often with hundreds of employees and tens of millions of dollars in their annual budgets. In most of those counties, the commissions are unelected and unaccountable to voters and taxpayers.

The system was created over 120 years ago as a way to connect distant villages and cities.

It exists now to connect unaccountable bureaucrats to billions of tax dollars with little to no oversight. The result in many counties has been chronic waste, abuse, misspending, misplaced priorities and budget deficits, while voters are left with zero recourse.

County commissions should exercise their right under state law to absorb the responsibilities of road commissions, in order to offer their residents the oversight and accountability they deserve while dramatically cutting costs.

Free the schools: Eliminate ISDs to pump millions more into classrooms, not bureaucracies

Michigan has 56 intermediate school districts, a level of bureaucracy that stands between the Department of Education and local school districts responsible for educating Michigan kids.

ISDs are not bound by Proposal A, are unaccountable to voters, and the services they provide to local districts – like busing – could often be accomplished by other providers at incredible cost savings to local schools.

Worse, ISDs will soak up more than $64 million from the state’s K-12 education budget next year alone to pay the freight for thousands of bureaucrats (many pulling down six-figure salaries) who have no daily interaction with Michigan students.

Eliminating ISDs would return control of education to local communities, and empower local districts to find cheaper, more efficient services and partnerships. What’s more, it would pump more than $64 million back into the classroom instead of wasting it on palatial ISD compounds, and salaries for bureaucrats who have absolutely zero daily contact with students.

Free union workers: End lifetime appointments for unions as bargaining representatives

Every two years, voters head to the polls to determine who will represent them from their local town halls all the way to Lansing and the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.

We hold elections regularly in this state and this nation to ensure that our elected officials represent the interests of voters – we do it to keep them honest and focused on delivering results.

Michigan men and women in workplaces represented by labor unions don’t enjoy that same protection, and labor unions don’t face that same level of accountability. But they should.

Today, once workers are organized and select a union, they are typically stuck with that union for life. While unions hold officer elections from time to time, voters almost never get another say on whether or not they want the union itself representing them at the bargaining table.

Legislation requiring every union in every Michigan workplace to seek and win “re-election” every four years would change that. It would end what are essentially lifetime appointments for unions and force them to focus on delivering results for the workers they represent – or face an eviction notice.

Regular elections to decide whether or not a union can continue representing workers at each workplace would also dramatically increase the voice of Michigan workers, giving them a direct say on the job.

Too often, so-called progressives choose the most complex, regressive path. These are just six simple, truly progressive solutions to a better, freer, more prosperous and efficient Michigan.

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Fri, 08/08/2014 - 6:41pm
Good luck with that. If you think voters would even go for any of that in the face of the fierce political opposition that the rent seekers would engage in, then you are being naive. I agree with your first suggestions on the state monopoly on booze, the independent electric companies monopoly and the ageism. But Road Commissions and ISDs elimination will simply lead to more centralized power in Lansing, which is what your objections to the first two, properly reflect: central planning failure. And now is not the time to keep beating on the unions. Right to Work was wrong enough and may further adversely affect what was a mature and effective business relationship that 70+ years of experience in Michigan between employers and the employees unions, led to the citizens of our state once enjoying widespread middle class prosperity, higher than most all other states and countries in the world. Unions and employers had been responsibly addressing the challenges of the new world economy. Tinkering with this by enacting RTW was wrong headed and does not and will not - "Bring Michigan Back".
Wed, 08/13/2014 - 3:26pm
Andrew—glad we agree on ending Michigan’s monopoly electric system, and getting government out of the beer, wine and liquor business. Won’t surprise you that I disagree with your assertion that eliminating road commissions and Intermediate School Districts would lead to more centralized power in Lansing, though. As I stated in my column, I recommend local County Commissions take advantage of a new state law to assume the responsibilities of their local road commissions. Not only does that not centralize an ounce of power in Lansing, it empowers voters at the local level to have a much greater say in the process. County commissions answer to the voters who elect them. Road commissions are largely unelected. As far as ISDs—eliminating this middle level of bureaucracy would not only empower local school districts to seek their own efficiencies, it would free up more than $64 million per year that could be poured directly back into local schools, instead of being wasted on bureaucracy and overhead.
Fri, 08/08/2014 - 7:52pm
Free The Donor Information: Allow Michiganders to know who's bankrolling Mr McNeilly and his so-called "Freedom Fund".
Mon, 08/11/2014 - 4:08pm
A good idea should stand or fall on its merits. It has nothing to do with funding.
Thu, 09/25/2014 - 2:21pm
GR, do you know everyone and every country that gives to Obama, Reid, Nancy P, no you don't and I don't either but they are controlled by a group and we can't seem to get rid of them either. We need term limits in the House and Senate.
Richard McLellan
Sun, 08/10/2014 - 9:53am
All good ideas worth considering. One of the downsides of Republican control is the rent seeking by business to create or protect monopolies. On county road commissions and ISDs, let us hope we can build a bipartisan leadership group willing to modernize state government institutions. As a practicing septuagenarian lawyer, I am ineligible to run for judge. Eliminating the 70 year limit is a good thing, but we have greater issues to address within the judicial branch -- things such as using compelled bar dues for ideological purposes. I like bashing unions as much as Greg, but isn't a law forcing private unions to conduct elections another example of government intrusion on our private economy?
John Q.
Sun, 08/10/2014 - 12:25pm
Of course it is which is why it demonstrates that. McNeilly doesn't believe in "freedom", he believes in manipulating the process to benefit his benefactors and punish his enemies.
Patrick Wright
Fri, 08/15/2014 - 11:12am
Regarding union certification - the vote would not go to internal union matters such as officers, amount of dues, by-laws, etc., union governance of which is protected by the First Amendment. Rather, the vote would be on whether the members of the bargaining unit wish to partake in a state statutory system that makes the union the mandatory collective bargaining unit. The United States Supreme Court has long held that mandatory public sector bargaining is not a constitutional right - each state is free to decide for itself whether it to enact laws allowing it. Michigan, of course, has allowed it since 1965 through the Public Employment Relations Act. The method for naming unions as a mandatory collective bargaining unit and for decertifying one generally involve elections. The proposed law would change the current requirement that some member get 30% of the unit to sign a petition within a certain time period to file trigger a decertifcation election. Mr. McNeilly's proposal would make such an election occur every 4 years to make certain that there is still support for the union. Once named a mandatory collective bargaining agent of public employees, the union is no longer a pure private actor. Often, it is negotiating for individuals who want nothing to do with it or its politics. Having used state law to gain the mandatory bargaining power, the unions would have little room to complain that the state periodically seeks to make certain the members of the mandatory unit still seek this arrangement.
Sun, 08/10/2014 - 10:33am
All great ideas (for starters) that could merrit Bridge looking at and doing in-depth articles on each one. I like your idea of absorbing smaller levels, Road Commissions into County Governments - after that go after Drain Commssions and Townships! Michigan already has way too many elected offices and layers of government (I believe we're second in the nation for numbers of elected offices). Voters have NO WAY to keep track or evaluate who they are voting for let, alone pay for them all!
John Q.
Sun, 08/10/2014 - 12:24pm
The usual fact-free claptrap from Mr. McNeilly. I'm no fan of Road Commissions. But Mr. McNeilly provides zero evidence to back up his claims. In fact, one of the few counties that dismantled their Road Commission is Wayne County, which is a poster child for fiscal mismanagement. As for his attacks on unions, apparently Mr. McNeilly is opposed to government interference in the operation of private organizations, except when they're unions. His claim that "Today, once workers are organized and select a union, they are typically stuck with that union for life" is so easily debunked that it's a waste of time to even bother. I've seen numerous examples of unions getting bounced by employees dissatisfied by the union's performance. But on the pages of The Bridge, Mr. McNeilly's been given the opportunity to spew lies and misinformation with abandon.
Field Reichardt
Mon, 08/11/2014 - 6:24am
Interesting thoughts here from Greg and from those commenting. I disagree with the elimination of Intermediate School Districts (ISDs). If the goals are to eliminate bureaucracies, waste of funds, and to improve efficiency, it makes more sense to merge our 560 + public school districts Into ISDs, with boards to be elected by the public, from voting districts. Their size and scale not only would allow more effective management and the sharing the sharing of tax base, but would also provide significantly broader academic offerings for students. Example: a district the size of most ISDs could have teachers of Mandarin, who could shuttle to different high schools. Efficiencies in busing would save millions. An ISD could more effectively organize magnet schools for science, technology, the arts, and agriculture. Currently, many do this with programs for mentally challenged.
Mon, 08/11/2014 - 9:40am
What's the evidence that larger districts are more efficient than smaller ones? Is there any? Always wondered. Seems that big cities aren't really any more efficient than small ones. But they sure have a lot more rules and regs!
Wed, 08/13/2014 - 3:27pm
Afternoon, Field. I agree that efficiencies in busing could save taxpayers a lot of money. Where we disagree is on the idea that somehow Michigan needs an extra level of bureaucracy between the state and local schools to achieve those efficiencies. Eliminating ISDs would not eliminate the ability of local districts to seek out and find greater efficiencies. On the other hand, it would empower lawmakers to send more than $64 million directly into the classroom. $64 million that is currently being sucked up each and every year by mid-level bureaucrats, most of whom have absolutely zero daily interaction with students. Put it in these terms—the average Michigan public school teacher makes roughly $62,000 per year. Eliminating ISDs would give local schools the combined financial hiring power to bring on more than 1,000 brand new Michigan teachers. But the true cost of ISDs is significantly greater. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, ISDs in Michigan received $2.6 billion (with a B) in taxpayer funding (local, state and federal) in 2009-2010, the last year for which such statistics are available. That’s the equivalent of nearly 42,000 brand new teachers. That same year, ISDs employed roughly 15,400 bureaucrats. 42,000 teachers for Michigan kids, or 15,400 bureaucrats, most of whom have little to no student interaction? That choice is easy.
J hendricks
Mon, 08/11/2014 - 7:30am
Bingo! Love all proposals, especially the alcohol and electricity ones. Let freedom and liberty ring! Get rid of the Lansing control freaks.
Mon, 08/11/2014 - 2:41pm
Interesting thoughts from Greg. I am surprised these "ideas" are being put forth as those Bridge believes should be seriously considered. Within the ranks of public education, ISDs are seen "standing with" MDE in service to school districts, staff, students and parents and NOT "standing between" them. From his comments, it is obvious that Greg has no personal knowledge of ISDs which is unfortunate. If he did, he would know that some of his statements are indeed "fact free" on one comment suggests. First the State School Aid Act recreated after the passage of Proposal A is just as binding for ISDs as any other public education interest. There are funding obligations like MPSERS which has now become a responsibility of local districts as well as ISDs rather than the State of Michigan. There are many ISDs, if not most, that do provide very cost-effective services to their local districts and have cost/benefit analysis to document this solution - often involving private providers (e.g.: substitute teacher calling systems, transportation, school lunch). The allocation in the State School Aid Act for ISDs does indeed buy a GREAT deal of direct interaction with parents, students and teachers. Again, Greg's lack of knowledge about ISDs is demonstrated by the fact that he is unaware that ISDs provide many direct service programs for students (e.g.: special education, vocational education, virtual learning, Math/Science education) - so LOTS of daily contact with students. Greg is also unaware, apparently, of the system used by all but three ISDs to elect ISD boards of education. Since ISDs were constitutionally created to serve our local districts, their boards of education members are selected by locally elected board members representing them.
Wed, 08/13/2014 - 3:27pm
Hi, Becky. 15,400 employees stretched across 56 Intermediate School Districts, with 56 different sets of mammoth overhead, soak up enough taxpayer dollars to hire more than 42,000 new teachers. That’s the polar opposite of “very cost-effective.” As far as your argument that some ISD employees do indeed have interaction with students… Even if every single ISD employee had the same level of daily student interaction as a full-time teacher (and they don’t), every single one of those ISD employees would still cost taxpayers the equivalent of nearly 3 full-time school teachers. Again. Hardly “cost-effective.” Your argument that special education services are responsible for the high cost of ISDs also fails to hold water. The total number of special education students enrolled directly in ISD programs has shrunk by 31 percent between 1995 and 2011, while the total number of students served by ISDs has remained roughly the same.
There is no Fre...
Mon, 08/11/2014 - 8:02pm
This particular brand of tripe has been paid for by the DeVos family with the help of the word smith of the right Frank Luntz. We will have no new large scale energy plants built in Michigan that could employ large numbers of highly skilled workers ever again thanks to the failed efforts to "privatize" energy production and delivery. THERE IS NO FREE MARKET FOR ENERGY. NONE. Why do you even give this clown a platform? Can't he has his big money backers just buy ad time?
Wed, 08/13/2014 - 3:28pm
Free Market—our neighboring states like Illinois have embraced competition in the electric marketplace and it’s working. A report published earlier this year by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Retailers, and Business Roundtable found that since the state moved to electric choice in 1999, consumers have seen $37 billion in savings, including $18 billion in residential savings. The study also found that since the introduction of choice, Illinois has actually seen electricity generation skyrocket—increasing by 30%, significantly more than here in Michigan, where customers are forced to pay monopoly rates. It’s time to put families first—not the big electric utilities.
Tue, 08/12/2014 - 9:45am
Mostly good ideas but the education one doesn't go far enough. All education needs to be privatized. Public education is not education. The powers that be have no skin in the game. They don't stand to lose any money, go to jail, of even get fired for making sure your child can't read and do simple math. Just a cursory glance at Michigan public education demonstrates the utter futility of a government run system. It's long past time to take the responsibility for education away from government and turn it over to private enterprise and this time do more than just turn over titled ownership where ownership is in name only where the government still exercises true ownership i.e. the right of use and disposal. This means no government regulations. The profit making and even non-profit enterprises have a moral right to decide how best to educate their students.
Carl E. Ver Beek
Tue, 08/12/2014 - 2:32pm
I agree with most of Greg's ideas, but disagree that the age 70 limit for judicial candidates should be eliminated. Judges have a lot of discretionary power. We need to be sure that they are not re-elected by name recognition after they are able to use good judgment. I was a lawyer representing employers and found how tough it is to terminate an old person who is not able to do the job I think I am able to comment on this since I am 77 and retired at 64. I am still active but only on boards and committees elected or appointed by others. I tried to get "term limits" for unions before with no success. Greg is correct that some union elections in the 1940's are still in effect!
Jeff Neilson
Mon, 08/18/2014 - 8:50am
Absolutely on the mark. Good judges can always find an opportunity to serve as visiting judges. Also, any elimination of the age limit should be tied to elimination of judges running in a slate like fashion as they do in larger more populated counties. That would enhance the opportunity of the voters in casting their vote for judicial candidates.