Finley: Make Legislature part-time
I've had enough, have you?
For years I've been listening to folks carp about the quality of Michigan's Legislature, bemoaning the inexperience and incompetence of its members. I've written a dozen times about the damage term limits have done to the quality of lawmaking in this state.
A lot of heads nod in agreement, but nothing ever changes. What happened in Lansing last week ought to be the impetus for action.
One more time, lawmakers convened with the specific purpose of finding a solution to fixing Michigan's miserable roads. They've been at this for two years and once again cowardice, opportunism and weak leadership fueled a failure.
Most infuriating is that they packed up and went home for another three weeks of vacation, after having been off all summer while the roads crisis festered.
If they're going to treat their jobs as part-time positions, we should make them just that. Our mission as ticked-off citizens should be to get a proposal on the 2016 ballot that would move Michigan to a part-time Legislature.
Cut their nearly $80,000 a year pay by 60 percent.
Eliminate their benefits.
Make this a true citizens Legislature, something term limits were supposed to do but didn't.
Forty other states have part-time legislatures, including some that are bigger than Michigan, including Texas and North Carolina.
Abbreviated sessions would focus lawmakers on essential business, and hopefully put an end to pet peeve bills, ideologically driven crusades and showboat legislation whose only intent is getting the sponsor a spotlight.
All the negatives of a part-time legislature, including that lobbyists and professional staff would increase in influence and the governor would become more powerful, have already played out in Lansing because of term limits.
Legislative leaders are too green and short-lived to wield the authority once earned through years of battle. Individual members aren't around long enough to become fully versed on issues, so they are reliant on lobbyists and their staffs for the expertise they lack.
There's little downside to making lawmakers part-time. So how do we get there?
Petition drives are expensive, and though the Constitution intends them to be citizen-driven, the cost is prohibitive without the backing of well-oiled interests.
My idea is to get the attention of groups with the resources to fund a ballot proposal by demonstrating public support.
So I've started an online petition campaign calling for a part-time legislature in Michigan.
It holds no official weight, but may get the process started if enough people sign.
If you agree, please join me in signing the petition at detroitnews.com/legislature.
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, 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.