Finley: Make Plan B a part-time Legislature

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

So how's this for a Plan B? If Proposition 1 is turned down by voters, and Michigan is left with no viable funding source to fix its despicable roads, the very next statewide ballot measure should be one to make the Legislature part-time.

Voters should never have faced the lousy choice they'll be presented with on May 5.

Funding road work was the top priority for the last legislative session.

But cowardly lawmakers spent the lame-duck weeks doing everything possible to avoid making a tough decision, and in the end punted to voters a ballot measure so riddled with potholes that its only chance of passage is convincing motorists it is their last hope of getting road relief.

The popular thinking is that the current batch of legislators is even less likely to muster the courage to raise the fuel tax if the request to hike the sales tax fails. If it's true that difficult decision-making is beyond the reach of these lawmakers, then voters should ask themselves what good is it doing Michigan to keep them around full time.

Michigan is just one of nine states with a full-time Legislature. Other states, including large ones such as Texas, North Carolina and Indiana, manage to get by with abbreviated legislative sessions.

Defenders of keeping Michigan's full-time body argue that it attracts a better and more diverse class of candidates to the job or representing the public.

In part-time legislatures, they say, only those who can afford to take weeks away from their regular employment are able to serve.

But where's the evidence that Michigan is better off because its lawmakers spend so much more time in Lansing?

Certainly it didn't help during the road funding debate. Lawmakers had all dang year to come up with a fix, took it to the last hours of the session, and then threw up their hands and told taxpayers: "You do it."

Whether voters will do it or not is a crap shoot.

Gov. Rick Snyder says if they don't, there's no Plan B, and that Michigan will be back to "negative square one" in searching for a roads solution. The governor doesn't believe the Legislature will rise to the challenge.

If that's true, let's send a message.

There's no point in having lawmakers lollygagging around the Capitol all year if they're not going to do what we pay them to do.

I've always thought a part-time legislature was a good trading chip for getting rid of term limits. And I still think that's the case.

Term limits have left us with a revolving door of amateurish lawmakers who never bother to learn their jobs because they're too busy worrying about what office they're going to run for next.

Kill two birds with one stone.

If Prop 1 fails, lawmakers should be given notice that they have 60 days to come up with an alternative funding plan, or a ballot drive will commence to make the Legislature part time and end term limits.

The money saved by cutting lawmaker salaries and killing all their benefits should be earmarked for the pothole fund.

It may be the only contribution the Legislature makes to fixing Michigan's miserable roads.


Follow Nolan Finley at, on Twitter at @nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.