This article originally appeared in The Detroit News.
All voters want for Christmas is a bolder conservative legislature in 2017. Don’t believe me? Go back and look at November’s election results. When the next legislature arrives in Lansing, it’ll be among the most conservative in the state’s history.
Legislators will find critical reform possibilities, and the opportunity to make a real difference for Michigan families and communities for generations.
Republicans shocked the Lansing media this November when they maintained their remarkable 63-47 majority in the state House. And with two more years of supermajority control for the party in the Senate and a Republican governor, they should think big and act boldly.
Here are just a few ideas to get them started.
Eliminate the personal income tax. Under former Governor Jennifer Granholm, residents saw a massive income tax hike. Jobs disappeared almost overnight. While it’s been rolled back incrementally since, moving it to zero would make Michigan a national leader when it comes to attracting the best and brightest workers from around the world, keeping our college graduates here at home, and luring businesses in search of high-skill talent.
Republicans should also address the state’s teacher retirement crisis. Michigan faces a $26.7 billion unfunded liability when it comes to public school employee retirement plans. The state and local school districts simply haven’t lived up to their obligations to secure the retirement of the state’s public school employees.
The state constitution guarantees teachers’ pensions, which means retirees are going to get their pension, but those dollars don’t grow on trees. They come out of the classroom. The state spends $2.2 billion a year on payments into the broken system, and it’s barely making a dent.
State Sen. Phil Pavlov identified this problem years ago. Since then, he’s been fighting tooth and nail to fix it, by taking the simplest of first steps — offering newly hired teachers a 401(k) retirement package that gives them retirement benefits up front, instead of promising them an ambiguous benefit 10 years down the road and digging school districts deeper into debt.
The incoming legislature should join Pavlov in the fight.
Lawmakers should also eliminate the 10 percent cap on electric choice. Our neighbors in Illinois and Ohio enjoy electric choice, and they pay significantly less than Michigan families for their electricity.
The last two years have featured an unprecedented assault on ratepayers from DTE and Consumers Energy, the state’s two massive monopoly utilities, and their allies in the Legislature. Nearly every Democrat stood united in the Legislature, voting for a package of bills designed to eliminate competition and to force every customer in the state to buy their juice at inflated prices by their monopoly provider. Republicans willing to abandon conservative principles joined them — like state Sen. Mike Nofs who astoundingly claimed that the “free market doesn’t work.”
But in Illinois, where customers have full electric choice, ratepayers have saved $14 billion on their electric bills over ratepayers in Michigan since 2008. In Ohio, where customers also enjoy electric choice, ratepayers have saved $15 billion compared to Michigan families, since just 2011.
Here in Michigan, customers had a choice between electric providers from 2000 to 2008, and during those years ratepayers saw some of the lowest rates in the nation. Granholm capped competition at 10 percent in 2008 and since, rates have skyrocketed by billions. In just the last year, DTE and Consumers have announced additional rate hikes of nearly $900 million a year.
Republicans should embrace the free market and follow the lead of our neighbors in the Midwest. It’ll improve service, drive innovation and make a huge difference for Michigan families when they go to pay their monthly electric bill.
2017 will be a year of opportunity for a conservative Michigan legislature. They should do something bold with it.
Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.