State Policy Network is pleased to announce the Beacon Center, Cardinal Institute, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Mackinac Center, and Texas Public Policy Foundation are the winners of the 2023 Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement.
The Bob Williams Awards celebrate state think tanks doing exceptional work to develop and disseminate credible policy research and ideas that can help states implement free-market solutions that will have national impact. The awards were named in honor of the Network’s most iconic policy maven and a friend to many, Bob Williams.
Presented at SPN’s 31st Annual Meeting in Chicago, the awards celebrate achievements in five categories: Best Issue Campaign, Best State Based Litigation, Biggest Home State Win, Biggest Win for Freedom, and Most Influential Research. This year’s awards recognized state think tanks that improved K-12 education, reduced taxes for hardworking families, lowered housing costs, protected worker rights, and held unions accountable.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation won the best issue campaign category for their work to improve education for Texas families. TPPF’s top legislative objective in the 88th Texas Legislature was to empower parents through education freedom. TPPF conducted research, engaged with policymakers, hosted local events, and communicated through a variety of digital platforms to make a compelling case. Their campaign was centered around the following principles that should be present in every education system to accommodate the diverse and unique needs of each family: 1) Choice for where parents send their children to school, 2) Quality education that prepares children for the future, 3) Transparency in curriculum and educational materials, and 4) Respect for parents by school officials. In a culmination of their efforts, Texas has become a leader in the parental rights movement, and the state senate passed an education reform package that strengthens the state’s parental rights, provides a respectful grievance process for dissatisfied parents, creates an open enrollment system, and implements an Education Savings Account (ESA) program.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was one of the many massive expenditures to come out of Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a program designed to offset close-down costs for businesses—and was messaged as helping the “little guy.” Public sector unions were explicitly not included in the PPP, but that didn’t stop the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and its health insurance partner from fraudulently collecting $12.5 million in PPP loans. Compared to the average of $126,000 taken home by 127,000 eligible businesses in Michigan, this makes the MEA part of the top 0.001% in terms of dollar amount collected through the PPP.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy to help taxpayers, seek justice. When Mackinac first came across this egregious violation of PPP, they could have scored easy points by publishing the information and bashing the MEA publicly. Instead, they filed a lawsuit that created a federal seal on the case, preventing them from publicly talking about the case while they pursued it in a legal system filled with MEA financed candidates and appointees—including the Assistant U.S. Attorney General who prosecuted their case. This novel strategy—a first for the Network—yielded dividends. Rather than being painted as a partisan or biased fight in the media, the clear-cut nature of the legal violations caused the MEA to quickly pursue a settlement, which resulted in the MEA repaying the loans, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines from the Department of Justice, and covering Mackinac’s legal fees.
For their successful litigative efforts that held the MEA accountable and returned money to taxpayers, the Mackinac Center won the Bob Williams Award for Best State Based Litigation.
The last time West Virginia made any significant income tax change was in the 1980s. That is, until 2023. The Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy helped usher in what was dubbed the “largest tax cut in West Virginia history,” saving taxpayers over $700 million in the first year alone. Throughout the 2023 legislative session, Cardinal emphasized the need for sound tax reform and the principles that should inform it, encouraged lawmakers to build on prior transformational reforms, and stressed the urgency of the moment through op-eds, informational interviews with experts, and participation in a roundtable hosted by Governor Jim Justice. This culminated in a 21.25% across the board reduction in personal income tax rates as well as rebates on some personal property and small business taxes. The reform also includes revenue triggers for further reductions, which puts West Virginia on a pathway to eliminating the personal income tax. For their tireless efforts to reduce taxes for hard-working West Virginians, the Cardinal Institute won the Bob Williams Award for Biggest Home State Win.
Tennessee voters did something historic in 2022. They voted—by a 40-point margin across political, geographic, and demographic lines—to enshrine right-to-work in the state’s constitution. The Beacon Center of Tennessee has long advocated for the state’s right-to-work laws—and began calling for a constitutional amendment back in 2019. Tennessee is a bastion for migration because of its strong business and work climate, but Beacon Center understood that eventually the migration could cause political changes that would erode the very laws making Tennessee such a viable destination. It’s a real Catch-22 for states that are thriving, but Beacon’s foresight led to a strong, focused, and eventually successful campaign over multiple years. Through polling and their community engagement efforts, Beacon was able to show lawmakers that the constitutional amendment was wildly popular with voters. Beacon helped get the ball rolling on what would be a lengthy but eventually massively successful constitutional amendment campaign. Thanks to the Beacon Center, right-to-work was added to the state constitution in November 2022. For their successful campaign to ensure all Tennesseans have a voice and choice when it comes to union membership, Beacon won the Bob Williams Award in the Biggest Win for Freedom Category.
The rising price of housing is top of mind to many citizens and policymakers. Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF) has long worked to tackle the root causes of high housing prices. In their latest research, “Government Regulation in the Price of a New Home: Georgia,” they conducted the first ever state-level replication of the National Association of Home Builders’ periodic survey of government regulatory costs. Through this research, they helped Georgia policymakers understand that the state was imposing 13% more cost on homebuyers than the national average, leading to multiple state-level bills designed to curb the excessive regulation. Furthermore, GPPF CEO Kyle Wingfield has since been asked to share the findings of the research with local governments and associations who are also interested in lowering housing costs. For their work to make housing more affordable for Georgia families, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation won the Bob Williams Award for Most Influential Research.
Congratulations to the winners! Your work is improving the lives and livelihoods of millions—and serves as an example of the impact state and local policy solutions can have on American families.