Jun 5, 2007
Some people, at least I am, are questioning the logic of addressing the problem of a group of people unable to get a complex and difficult task accomplished within a timely deadline addressing that problem by cutting the time they are working.
That is the logic of Republican Senators Bruce Patterson, Jud Gilbert and Tom George, who introduced a Senate Joint Resolution in February that will amend the Constitution to limit the Legislature to meet not more than 90 consecutive days. As I am writing this, I am watching the Senate Committee on Government Operations and Reform, chaired by the chief obstructionist - Mike Bishop – hold a hearing on the concept of a part-time legislature. The resolution says simply that: it doesn’t set salary rates or talk about committees where most of the real work is done.
The budget fiasco and the quest to replace the Single Business Tax (SBT) demonstrate that term limits have stripped the Legislature of experience and trust. This will make that problem even worse. I’m not sure what problem this move is trying to address.
For full disclosure, I intern in a Michigan House office, but this also gives me a bird’s eye view of the process and the workload. Seeing the workload of the member I work for and seeing her rush from appointment to appointment it seems inconvincible that she would work less hours. The demands on her time are tremendous.
The budget crisis is driving this, but the money saved is just a drop in the bucket. I’m an advocate of good government and experience, and it seems to me this will give us lots of experience, but little else. Less professional people will run for office, and the majority of Legislators will be retirees, those who are self-employed or the independently rich. Are there 148 Dick Devos in Michigan? Experience is a good thing, but we will take a hit on diversity. That also brings up the issue of conflict of interest. Can a legislator sit on the judiciary committee and try cases, can a teacher sit on the Education Committee or can an insurance salesman sit on the Insurance Committee?
Newspaper reports say Michigan is only one of four states that have a full-time legislature, but the representative of the nonpartisan Legislative Service Bureau testifying says there are nine states with full-time legislatures. That number may be high as 11, depending on what criteria is used to define full-time.
A part-time legislature also seems to violate the separation of powers. The legislative, executive and judicial are supposed to be equal branches of government. Why is no one advocating the other two branches go part-time? The Legislature is supposed to serve as an oversight protection on the executive branch, but how can a part-time legislature do that when it barely does it now?
As government, technology and everything else gets more complex everyday since we went to a professional Legislature around 1969, the power has shifted to lobbyists who are the subject matter experts. It seems to me that will only get worse with this scheme.
This will have to go on the ballot, and with the current mood of the voters, it’s a no-brainer that it will pass. It’s a mistake. This is the first of many meetings, and Bishop says he will support the concept if it does away with term limits. I support a professional legislature and lengthening term limits so that term limits gives us a high level of expertise that eliminates lawmakers from always looking to the next office but does not entrench them in office. This does not address the budget crisis or make government better, what it does is punish Legislators.