More About Michael Mitchell

Michael Mitchell

Michael Mitchell is a Policy Analyst with the Center’s State Fiscal Policy division. Prior to joining the Center, Mitchell worked as a State Policy Fellow for the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, where he conducted research on state taxes and borrowing, the effects of budget cuts on communities of color, and the impacts of the recession on young adults. Mitchell holds a B.A. in Economics and Political Science from the University of Connecticut and an MPA from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

Full bio and recent public appearances | Research archive at

Tax-Cut States Put Higher Ed on the Chopping Block

March 25, 2015 at 12:36 pm

With the recession behind them, many states are reinvesting in their higher education systems, though funding remains far below pre-recession levels.  A handful of states, however, have dug deeper budget holes with tax cuts — holes that they’re looking to their already beleaguered colleges and universities to help them fill.

For example:

  • No state cut higher education funding more deeply between 2008 and 2014 than Arizona, which reduced inflation-adjusted per-student spending by almost 50 percent. State lawmakers earlier this month passed a budget that further cuts higher education funding by nearly $100 million — including eliminating state support for community colleges in the state’s most populous counties.  Arizona enacted large corporate tax cuts in 2011 — in addition to other smaller cuts over a longer period of time — that are beginning to phase in.
  • Over the same period, Louisiana slashed per-student funding for higher education by 43 percent, second only to Arizona. Due largely to poor budgeting choices, the state faces a $1.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year, which the governor plans to cover in part by cutting higher ed funding by another $211 million.  The state’s finances would be in much better shape if it didn’t enact costly income tax cuts for the state’s highest earners just before the recession.
  • In Wisconsin, where tax cuts have cost the state nearly $2 billion in revenue over the past four years, lawmakers are considering another $300 million cut to the higher education system in the 2016 budget. Wisconsin has already cut per-student funding more than 20 percent, in inflation-adjusted terms, since the onset of the recession.
  • In Kansas, lawmakers actually increased higher education spending for the 2014-15 school year. However, due to a fiscal emergency caused by massive tax cuts that took effect two years ago, Governor Sam Brownback pared back the increase by $16 million, among other mid-year cuts.  Between 2008 and 2014, after adjusting for inflation, the state had cut per-pupil funding by about 23 percent.  Kansas is facing another huge budget gap for 2016, so more cuts for higher education and other state services likely are on the way.

These cuts may result in more tuition increases, reductions in faculty and administrative staff, cuts to course offerings, and other programmatic cuts that may lessen quality for students.  As the economy continues to recover and revenues bounce back, states would do well to reject costly and ineffective tax cuts and instead reinvest additional resources into higher education and other important budget priorities.

Mapping State Funding Cuts for Higher Education

March 6, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Public colleges and universities have experienced major cuts in state funding since the Great Recession — something state lawmakers should consider as they grapple with tough budget decisions in coming months. Our new fact sheets show that, in almost every state, these funding cuts have led to tuition hikes. In some cases, they’ve also been accompanied by cuts in campus staff and programs that may reduce the quality of education for students.

As our 2014 paper explained, after adjusting for inflation:

  • Forty-eight states — all but Alaska and North Dakota — are spending less per student than they did in fiscal year 2008. The average state has cut per-student funding by $2,026, or 23 percent.
  • Nine states have cut per-student funding by more than one-third. Three of them — Arizona, Louisiana, and South Carolina — have cut it by more than 40 percent.
  • Annual published tuition — the “sticker price” — at four-year public colleges has risen by an average of $1,936, or 28 percent, since the 2007-08 school year.

Some 42 states began reinvesting in higher education between fiscal years 2013 and 2014. That’s a good first step. But if states are to continue reinvesting in higher education, they’ll need to make sound tax and budget decisions — including rejecting costly and ineffective tax cuts.

Click on the state abbreviation to jump to its fact sheet.

Note: North Dakota and Alaska are excluded from the fact sheets because they increased per-student higher ed funding between 2008 and 2014.


Growing Incarceration Contributed Little to Drop in Crime, Study Finds

February 26, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Increased incarceration has contributed next to nothing to the sharp drop in crime over the past 25 years, a recent Brennan Center for Justice report finds. This research, along with other recent analysis challenging the belief that incarcerating a bigger share of offenders and for longer periods would significantly reduce crime, suggests that states would be better off spending less on locking people up and more on education, mental health, and substance abuse treatment.

As our report on criminal justice reform explains, most states’ prison populations are at historic highs; in 36 states, the prison population has more than tripled as a share of state population since 1978 (see graph).  This growth has been costly.  If states were still spending on corrections what they spent in the mid-1980s, adjusted for inflation, they would have about $28 billion more each year to spend on more productive investments or a mix of investments and tax reductions.

The Brennan Center report found that while rising incarceration rates helped reduce property and violent crime rates in the 1990s, the effect was much smaller than some other studies have suggested, accounting for 0-10 percent of the total decline over the decade.  Since 2000, rising incarceration rates account for less than 1 percent of the decline in crime rates.

“This report’s analysis reveals that incarceration has been decreasing as a crime fighting tactic since at least 1980,” the authors conclude. “Since approximately 1990, the effectiveness of increased incarceration on bringing down crime has been essentially zero.”  Factors such as an aging population, higher earnings, lower alcohol consumption, and smarter police tactics may have done as much or more to reduce crime, according to the study.

We’ve outlined four basic ways that states can reduce their prison populations to free up funds for schools and other investments in human capital: decriminalize and reclassify certain low-level felonies, shorten prison terms and parole/probation periods, restrict the use of prison for parole violations, and divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues out of the system altogether.

The Rise in State Prison Populations

December 3, 2014 at 10:01 am

Most states’ prison populations are at historic highs after decades of extraordinary growth. This growth has been costly, limiting economic opportunity for communities with especially high incarceration rates and taking critical resources from other important investments, such as education. Click on the map below to learn more about the rise in prison populations and spending in each state. The downloadable data file also includes state-by-state information on recent criminal justice reforms.

California Votes to Shrink Prison Population and Reinvest Savings

November 6, 2014 at 4:28 pm

California voters approved Tuesday a measure to not only reduce the state prison population but also reinvest the savings in specific, high-priority programs.  As our recent report on criminal justice reform and education investments explains, Proposition 47 includes several features that make it a model reform.

Specifically, it:

  • Makes targeted sentencing reductions by reclassifying certain offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, for both current and future offenders.
  • Requires the state to calculate the savings from these reforms each year and deposit them in a dedicated fund.
  • Earmarks the savings for specific investments in mental health and substance abuse treatment, supporting at-risk youth in schools, and victim services.

State policies have been the major drivers of rising prison populations in recent decades, so these changes will reduce prison overcrowding and lower incarceration rates.  The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Proposition 47 would likely cut the state’s prison population by several thousand inmates while generating corrections savings in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  Even better, research indicates that states can significantly reduce their prison populations without harming public safety.

Just as important, Proposition 47 ensures that the savings get reinvested in specific areas of the budget.  While most states have enacted criminal justice reforms, few have directed the savings to investments in human capital (such as education) or low-income neighborhoods.