Michigan is one of only 10 states with a full-time Legislature. But Gongwer News Service Editor Zach Gorchow says a combination of a part-time Legislature and the state’s strict term limits law would make Michigan unique.
Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley announced the ballot proposal for a part-time Legislature last week on Mackinac Island. Gorchow wrote a blog post about the proposal and joined WMUK’s Gordon Evans from the Michigan Public Radio Network studios in Lansing. Gorchow says if approved, there would be no other state in the nation that combines a part-time legislature, term limits as strict as Michigan’s and life time limits on serving in the state House or Senate. Other states limit consecutive terms, but allow lawmakers to come back and serve again.
Calley has said “tens of millions of dollars” could be saved by making lawmakers part-time. But Gorchow says just cutting legislators’ salaries in half would save $4.5-million. He says larger savings would require big cuts to legislative staff. With term limits that allow lawmakers to serve six years in the House and eight in the Senate, Gorchow says outside of a few long-serving state Senators, the “real expertise” in the Legislature is with the staff.
Gorchow says the proposal also raises questions about constituent service. Calley says, under the proposal it would be up to lawmakers to decide how much staff they want. Would someone be there to answer the phone in offices when the legislature is not in session? Gorchow says staff members often contact a state department on behalf of a citizen who has had a problem, but he says sometimes a legislator has to get involved. Gorchow asks what happens when the legislature is not in session and a lawmakers is asked to perform constituent service.
In addition to Gorchow’s post, Gongwer Publisher John Lindstrom also weighed in on the part-time proposal, and questioned who would be able to serve in a part-time Legislature. Gorchow says that is a big unknown. He says not many people can ask their employer to take off three months for another job. But he says part-time lawmakers could be working for an entity that has a lot of issues at the Capitol. Gorchow says they could be serving their other employer’s interests as a state lawmaker.
Calley’s announcement comes as everyone expects him to launch a campaign for governor. Gorchow says the Lieutenant Governor has punted so far on the question of whether the proposal is a “power play,” that would weaken the Legislature at a time when Calley hopes to head the executive branch.
As a state Representative, Calley co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to make the Legislature part-time. But Gorchow says that had “zero chance” under a state House controlled by Democrats at the time. Gorchow says this is much different, because Calley is putting the weight of his position behind the proposal, and leading the effort to get it on the ballot.
And if the proposal gets on the ballot? Gorchow says it’s no secret that elected officials are not popular these days. He says a campaign could be waged against the proposal, and make good arguments. But Gorchow asks “How do you counter, ‘cut legislative pay in half?’”