Prepare for a fight on major legislation after COVID-19

James M. Hohman, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Throughout her 2 1/2 years in office, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has rarely agreed with the Michigan Legislature on policy issues. The governor's unilateral approach to handling the state's COVID-19 response not only locked out the Legislature but also damaged this relationship. Now with the possibility that one-person governance will be over, the governor and Legislature need to determine what policy changes they'll focus on when they return to the normal lawmaking process.

There are plenty of issues that they ought to come together on.

The state has been showered with cash from the federal government, with possibly more on the way. There are some good ideas about how to spend this to strengthen the state’s long-term financial prospects, like paying off debt and keeping a fund balance for the unemployment insurance system.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the governor suspended some policies that restricted access to health care, only to reinstate them later. Rules that restrict access to health care should be entirely rethought and many of them repealed permanently.

Lawmakers should pass a bill to review occupational licenses and eliminate those which do not provide important public safety benefits. The governor relaxed these requirements during the pandemic, and the enterprise deserves revisiting.

The governor has thus far been unsuccessful at fulfilling her campaign promise to improve road conditions. Her initial call to raise taxes by $2.5 billion to spend $1.9 billion on roads was dismissed by legislators, but perhaps they will reconsider road funding plans later in the year. The state is, however, already close to the point where it fixes roads faster than they fall apart, and it can afford to get there without reaching further into taxpayer pockets.

Legislators should fight against the governor’s latest call to spend more money on business subsidies. They are unfair, expensive and ineffective, and lawmakers shouldn’t be tempted by the strange politics that lead to the proliferation of business favors. Lawmakers should instead look to enter into an interstate compact to end these kinds of programs.

While there are important issues that lawmakers ought to consider, it’s unclear whether any of these will lead to new laws. It would require compromise and communication among people with different ideas, and the governor has been too interested in only following her preferences.

The lack of trust and compromise is one reason why lawmakers like Rep. Tom Albert have tried to get the Legislature to have a greater say in the pandemic responses. The state’s budget has to be approved by the Legislature, and it is one area where the governor cannot act alone. Until the governor returns to the normal lawmaking process, quarterly budgets, not yearly budgets, would give them a chance to affect policy more than once a year.

A return to the normal legislative process, where the important issues of the day are not dictated by a single person, could break the current obstructiveness. It’s up to legislators and the governor to decide whether to carry their conflicts into a post-COVID future.


James M. Hohman is the director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.