A part-time legislature would be good for Michigan. It moves us into the mainstream of how most states operate, 41 to be exact, and establishes an expectation that our legislature must prioritize the most important work and get it done efficiently.
Our political system has a way of mobilizing to block reforms, and that is certainly what it’s trying to do in criticizing the effort to make Michigan’s legislature part-time. Let me set the record straight.
Politics, posturing and procrastination will have to give way to getting things done, and getting them done sooner. In a full-time, year-round lawmaking process, things can drag out indefinitely, or at least until lame-duck session. This creates long periods of uncertainty and fighting.
Will our people be OK if new laws are not made year around? I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes. And in the event of an emergency, like is the case in other states, the legislature can come back into session to deal with those challenges.
A part-time system will not lead to less experienced people serving, but will change the type of experience they bring and the perspective provided while serving. Contrary to what politicians and media would have you believe, experience inside Lansing is not the most important factor. Our nation has a long history of citizens bringing their real world experience to government, not the other way around.
Michigan has the fourth highest-paid legislators in the country. Under this proposal, legislator compensation would be tied to the average teacher salary. Legislator pay would be determined by taking the average teacher pay and prorating it based on number of days lawmakers serve in session. According to Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information, the average teacher salary in Michigan last year was about $62,000 and teachers are required to be in the classroom 180 days. Since the legislature would be in session 90 days under the proposed part-time legislature, the salary would be set at about $31,000, which is more in line with other states.
The United States of America didn’t rise to become the best nation in the history of the world because government legislated it to be that way. It’s always been about regular people living free lives in pursuit of their hopes and dreams. Those same people have the kind of experience we need in our political system.
Most importantly, this proposal will shift power closer to home. Rather than legislators being gathered together year round in Lansing, the majority of their lives would be spent in the communities they represent. It will be much harder for politics to win out over community.
For those who wish to combine this important reform with changes in term limits, I would invite you to develop a proposal and go through the process to put it before the people. Each proposal to change the constitution should stand on its own merits.
Making Michigan a part-time legislature is part of my 10-point plan to help clean Michigan government. It also calls for policy changes related to lobbying, expanding FOIA, exposing conflicts of interest, 2-year budget cycles and modernizing government operations. To read the full plan and get information on how to sign the petition, visit www.cleanmigovt.org.
The system will always protect itself and we have readily seen this taking place. Just because things have been this way in Michigan, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. The best government is one by the people and for the people. More efficiency, a wider pool of potential candidates and an increased community perspective ... that’s how we create the best future for Michigan.
Brian Calley is lieutenant governor of Michigan.