Opinion: Possibilities and pitfalls await Lansing in the new year

This column originally appeared in The Detroit News.

Possibilities and pitfalls: As we turn the page on another year, policymakers are presented with a measure of both. What they do with them will make all the difference for a state still limping from its governor’s handling of the pandemic but newly awakened to freedoms and possibilities.

When lawmakers return to the halls of the people’s building in 2022, they are exhorted to act boldly — but with the sober judgment that focuses their work on the people they serve — and returning control to those people whenever and wherever possible.

The Michigan Freedom Fund is excited about the possibilities.

The House and the Senate took remarkably bold action earlier this year when they voted on the most sweeping education reforms in the state’s history. They approved millions for reading scholarships to help kids catch up after the pandemic, and they approved up to $500 million in new investment in our students through student opportunity accounts.

The accounts would equip working families whose students have special needs, emotional or learning challenges, and those who couldn’t otherwise afford it to get extra help paying for tutors, transportation, internet access, textbooks and more.

This year saw Gov. Gretchen Whitmer bizarrely veto reading scholarships and the opportunity accounts for at-risk learners. Next year will give lawmakers the chance to stand up for students despite her.

Petitions are now in the field to create student opportunity accounts without the governor’s signature. If parents collect enough of them, the House and Senate will have the chance to approve that extra $500 million in student funding again. What an opportunity the new year heralds.

They’ve got a chance to help those kids’ parents, too. Michigan’s slow recovery from the pandemic has exposed workforce challenges, including onerous and unnecessary licensing requirements.

Often, licensure serves only one purpose — acting as a barrier to entry for new talent. That’s the last thing we need now, as employers struggle to fill open jobs. Lansing can make it simpler for moms and dads to get back into the workforce by tearing down barriers that stand in their way.

Demographically, there is no doubt that occupational regulations have a disparate impact on those who could most use a new job. Sadly, they’ve long been championed and defended by Michigan Democrats.

While legislators are tearing down antiquated laws that stand in the way of the public, they have the opportunity in 2022 to clean up their own house — and the governor’s, too.

Let’s make transparency a reality in the new year. The House and Senate can pass FOIA reform that makes their own offices and Gov. Whitmer’s accountable under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Whitmer is likely to break her campaign promises and veto the bills, but that shouldn’t stop Republicans from tearing back the curtains to let in the sunshine. It should embolden them.

Of course, where there are possibilities, there are pitfalls. We’ve seen Lansing fall into them too many times.

Just these last few days, we’ve watched lawmakers from both parties line up to approve tax giveaways to well-connected big businesses. In doing so, they ignored the data, evidence and their own principles. The era of corporate welfare is far from over in Lansing, but it should be. It might buy a lot of fancy dinners for politicians, but working families wind up paying the bill.

The capital city is awash in federal, COVID-relief funding and still figuring out ways to spend it all. A simple guardrail could keep them from creating devastating long-term problems.

When Lansing redistributes the cash, they should avoid spending it on new programs that’ll only cost Michigan taxpayers more down the road.

Let’s address unfunded liabilities. Let’s invest in infrastructure. Let’s put the power back in the hands of voters. We’ve experienced painful lessons during the pandemic. Let’s prove we learned from them.

And if Lansing doesn’t do the right thing, Michigan voters and taxpayers have an opportunity to revolt at the ballot box in 2022.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.

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