Part-Time Legislature in the News


 
 

Term limits, part-time legislature just fine

 

"Historically, America’s founding fathers were distrustful of people seeking political power. “Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct,” Thomas Jefferson once observed. Instead, founders embraced the ideal that elected leaders should be temporary public servants, using common sense to briefly serve their state and neighbors and then returning to live and work under the regulations they had enacted."

 Michigan lawmakers consider going part-time from wood-tv8

http://www.woodtv.com/global/story.asp?s=6616670&ClientType=Printable

Part-Time Legislature Discussed in the Detroit Free Press

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070524/NEWS06/705240366/1001/NEWS

 

...“Government has grown at a rate we can’t keep up with,” Bishop said. “My goal for all of this is to create government that we can afford.”

Michigan, one of four states with a full-time Legislature, spends $115 million a year for House and Senate functions, including nearly 1,000 employees, and pays legislators more than any state but California.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the House by state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, R-Portage, who told the Free Press last month: “We spend an awful lot of time on things we don’t need to spend time on.”...

Detroit Free Press, May 24, 2007.

 

Here is a story from The Observer and Eccentric...

 http://hometownlife.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070531/OPINION01/705310734/1208/NEWS19

  

 Make it a part-t ime Legislature - Free Press

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070401/OPINION02/704010597/1070

A 3-month session could cut costs and trouble-making

April 1, 2007

BY RON DZWONKOWSKI

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

As long as we limit their terms, we might as well limit their time, too.

Why do we need a full-time Legislature in Lansing? Most states, including some that are much bigger than Michigan and growing -- such as Texas and Florida -- seem to function OK with part-time lawmaking bodies.

This would not directly solve the state's budget crisis. The 110 state representatives and 38 state senators don't consume that much of it, even at $79,500 a year. But you know, keeping them out of Lansing for most of the year would limit their opportunity to spend money in a variety of ways -- such as approving all those tough criminal sentencing polices during the 1980s that have now packed the prison system with aging inmates and done little to reduce the crime rate. Legislators with time on their hands feel compelled to pass laws.

State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, R-Portage, thinks the Legislature ought to meet for the first three months of the year, pass a budget and go home.

"We spend an awful lot of time on things we don't need to spend time on," he said in an interview last week. Hoogendyk has introduced a resolution to reduce the Legislature to a part-time body, with members' pay tied to per-capita income in Michigan. Right now, he estimates that would be around $42,000 a year, and lawmakers would get 25% of that amount for working their three months. Acknowledging that "it doesn't have a real good chance" of happening, Hoogendyk and a few cosponsors are asking fellow legislators to put this proposal on the state ballot.

If they did, it would pass -- which is why they won't.

But Hoogendyk, who is in his third and final two-year House term, is trying to keep the issue alive in hopes of perhaps stirring some citizens to launch a petition drive.

That would not surprise me, given the level of disdain I sense for state government these days, much of it deserved. But the dysfunction in Lansing is also a function of the term limits that state voters enacted in 1992. The constitutional amendment effectively eliminated the job description of "career politician" from Lansing, giving us instead a collection of shortsighted, thin-skinned partisans who cannot see farther than the next election.

Say what you want about "career politicians," but I've known a few who were secure enough in their districts to be able to cast unpopular votes on tough issues and knowledgeable enough to see Michigan's big picture. We have "career nurses" and "career cops" and even "career journalists" in this state who are prized for their experience and "institutional knowledge," but we can't have "career politicians." Instead, we have temporary lawmakers who have to rely on "career lobbyists" for information and then try to work their will on "career bureaucrats." The results, well, you see them.

So why not minimize the potential for damage, reduce the Legislature to a part-time crew and force them with a tight calendar to do the one thing that really matters each year: settle a budget? The current budget wrangle in Lansing is over the one passed last year that hasn't held up; then it begins all over again for the next budget year, which starts Oct. 1.

"It's really just balancing a big checkbook," said Hoogendyk. "And when you know you just have three months to get it done, that's what you focus on and you do get it done."

A part-time Legislature could also attract a different kind of person to Lansing, Hoogendyk said, someone who can devote a quarter of the year to the job and spend the rest of the time doing other work and keeping in touch with the people.

And would the governor and state bureaucracy run unaccountably amok in those months when the Legislature is not around to exercise its checks and balances role?

"You know," said Hoogendyk, "the best watchdog is the one that is outside in the yard, not all warm inside the house. ... It's too easy to get too comfortable with the bureaucrats."

RON DZWONKOWSKI is editor of the Free Press editorial page. Contact him at dzwonk@freepress.com or 313-222-6635.

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

 

The Daily Telegram, Lenawee County weighs in...

 

 http://www.lenconnect.com/articles/2007/06/01/news/news09.txt

Senate leader open to reforms, talk of part-time Legislature

5/23/2007, 7:29 p.m. ET
By TIM MARTIN
The Associated Press
 

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The state's top Republican lawmaker gave some insight on just how far he'd personally go to cut down the size of Michigan's government Wednesday, saying he wants to discuss the possibility of a part-time Legislature as part of long-term reforms.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, a Republican from Rochester, continued to push for government cost-cutting as part of resolving the state's budget crisis. The state faces an $800 million deficit for this budget year and a hole that could be twice as large for the fiscal year that starts in October.

Bishop said he has been frustrated by parts of the ongoing budget negotiations. But he also said the talks are making "good progress." He has scheduled a tentative Senate session for Friday and told Senate staffers to be available Saturday as lawmakers and Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration race the clock to prevent cuts to schools and Medicaid that could kick in June 1.

"My goal in all of this is to create a government we can afford," Bishop told reporters Wednesday.

Bishop also again said he does not want a tax increase as part of a settlement for this fiscal year's projected $800 million deficit. But he said revenue increases could be part of the discussion for the next fiscal year that begins in October, if reforms are first part of the equation.

Democrats, including Granholm, want a tax increase sooner rather than later. House Democrats could soon push through a tax increase plan, including a temporary income tax increase that could take effect as early as late summer if it wins approval. In a longer-range plan, Democrats could push for a graduated income tax that would charge higher rates for higher income people.

Bishop did not say what tax plan may work for him as part of the solution. Asked whether he would prefer a sales tax on services or an income tax increase, Bishop said he didn't find either palatable.

"They both activate the gag reflex," he said.

Reforms took up most of Wednesday's discussions in the Legislature. Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said the administration supports "cost saving reforms as part of a comprehensive solution to the budget crisis."

The part-time Legislature idea may not be one that would get wide support among lawmakers, and it also would require a statewide vote. It also wouldn't do anything to address the current budget deficit, but Bishop said it would have both symbolic and practical impact in the long run.

Michigan is one of only about a dozen states with a full-time legislature, although states use different measurements to classify themselves as full- or part-time.

Bishop said he also would want term limits repealed as part of the deal.

More immediate reform ideas continued to be debated at the Capitol, including Senate Republican proposals to change some aspects of benefits for public schools employees and to consolidate government services.

Meanwhile, House Democrats continued to work on bills that some Republicans want passed in hopes of streamlining government and saving taxpayer cash. Passing the reform bills could be key to getting some Republican support for tax increases favored by Democrats.

But some Republicans questioned whether the proposals getting passed would really save the state any money.

Several bills could come up for votes in the House as early as Wednesday night.

One of the bills would limit compensation for school superintendents to that of the governor, whose salary is about $177,000 a year. A few Michigan districts or intermediate school districts already pay their top executive more than that, although benefits would be factored into the compensation equation. Critics of the bill say it would prevent schools from hiring topflight administrators, particularly those from out of state.

Another bill would prevent what some call "double dipping" on retirement benefits. The legislation would suspend pension payments for retired state employees who return to work for the state as contractors.

Another bill would subject public employee pensions to the state income tax. Those pensions now are exempt from that tax.

Bills discussed in a House committee Wednesday would give local government employees access to a state employee health plan, which in theory would save money by making the insurance pool broader and spreading costs over a larger group.

Other bills would limit health and retirement benefits for public workers in some cases.

___

On the Net:

Michigan Legislature: http://www.legislature.mi.gov

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