Editorial: Go easy in lame duck

The Detroit News

Michigan’s lame-duck legislative sessions are problematic on a number of levels, so it’s usually safer to keep the agenda as limited as possible. There is some unfinished business lawmakers should tackle before the session ends next month, but that’s where they should stop.

We have several concerns about lame-duck law making. For one thing, the brief, post-election policy-making period allows legislators who have been voted out of office to continue to have an impact on the direction of the state, without accountability for their votes. And those who are either voted out or term-limited by law and are looking for a job, may act in the interest of a potential new employer rather than for their constituents.

At the same time, those couple of weeks before this legislative session adjourns for good presents an opportunity to resolve some issues that have been thoroughly debated and studied, and if not settled would have to be started from scratch when the new Legislature convenes.

Put the energy bills at the top of that list.

The Senate has passed two bills that would provide clear direction for Michigan’s energy future. Both are the product of considerable deliberation and compromise, and it has been an arduous process to bring them this far.

Together, they set reasonable goals for power generation and environmental protection, and are very likely to be signed should they reach the governor’s desk.

But before they can get there, they have to be passed by the House, which is being lobbied hard by smaller power companies to protect the current standards for consumer choice. Some lawmakers are pushing to wait to see what the new Trump administration will do on energy before committing Michigan to a plan.

As we’ve said in previous editorials, Michigan must act now to assure it has an adequate supply of power to keep the state’s economy healthy and growing. The House should pass these bills.

Beyond that, another issue likely to come up in lame duck is the city of Detroit’s push to force suburban employers to collect the city’s income tax.

The city’s concern is understandable: too few of its residents who work outside Detroit are voluntarily paying the income tax.

One bill is Detroit specific; a second one would require employers to collect taxes for all 22 communities in the state with an income tax.

This is a sizable and unfair burden on employers, particularly those smaller businesses that don’t use a sophisticated payroll system. It would add cost and paperwork, and would likely discourage them from hiring employees who live in income tax communities.

A better solution would be to have the state collect those taxes on behalf of those communities as part of the state tax levy.

Some lawmakers are pushing for comprehensive public employee pension reform during the lame duck.

That’s too big a fish to fry. Very little preparatory work has been done on the legislation.

And the solution must be multi-layered, since it would affect so many different pension plans, with varying levels of financial distress, or no distress.

While it is an essential issue to tackle, it is too complex to be resolved well in just a few days and would be better left for January.

There is less urgency for the GOP-controlled Legislature to rush through a laundry list of bills this year, since it retains its majorities in the new Legislature. Better to do the essential business and go home. This is one year in which few would begrudge them an early holiday break.