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Part-time Legislature is the worst choice

• Jul 26, 2017 at 4:00 PM

A part-time legislature may cost the state less money. It might mean more time spent at home among constituents for some legislators. And it could mean fewer session days.

These do not make it a good idea. And it's certainly not the only one.

A petition seeking to amend the state Constitution to cut lawmakers' pay and make them part time is gaining attention, thanks to recent backing from Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

It has focused the public eye on the legislative process even more so than a resolution introduced earlier this year to limit legislative sessions to 90 days out of the year.

Dont' be fooled: A part-time Legislature is the worst choice.

The Michigan Legislature needs improvement. Lawmakers take too long to address major issues, sometimes struggling for years to achieve only a stop-gap solution (think road funding).

Meanwhile, the Legislature churns out dozens of less important — and less controversial — bills, many of which don't address the critical problems that Michigan needs fixed to assure a better future for its residents.

Passing lots of bills is not an indication of efficiency, especially when important issues remain unresolved. But paying legislators less offers no guarantee of fixing this.

Michigan's lawmakers need more expertise on complex issues and more discipline in their processes. A part-time Legislature doesn't necessarily gain expertise, nor is it automatically more efficient.

Michigan is currently one of 10 states with a full-time legislature. It is also one of four that are "full-time, well-paid, large staff" legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

According to the conference's 2014 numbers, Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for lawmakers' salary, coming in below California, Pennsylvania and New York.

Proponents of a part-time Legislature — including Calley and House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-Dewitt) — say limiting the Michigan Legislature would save money by cutting pay more than half.

And that it would allow legislators to spend more time in their district hearing from constituents. But part-time lawmakers are more likely to have other jobs, which means they won't spend as much time studying issues or interacting with constituents.

Saving money and improving efficiency are admirable goals. They are better served by keeping a full-time Legislature and limiting session days to a set period each year (many states' legislatures run January through March, for example).

Data suggest legislatures with a limited time for passing bills require less staff. It's also likely that they'll pass fewer bills and focus more on important issues. And they have more time to spend with constituents.

Ending term limits would allow lawmakers to build their expertise. Knowledge builds the confidence to make decisions about complex, controversial issues rather than pushing them off until "later."

Creating a more centralized legislative staff with far fewer partisan positions also would save money and contribute to expertise.

All of those are preferable options to a part-time Legislature.

The part-time solution comes up in nearly every legislative session and has included several unsuccessful ballot proposals.

In 2007, the Lansing State Journal’s editorial board said, "The urge to cut is powerful. But part-time pay is a bad idea for full-time work. And, yes, done properly, the job of legislator is full time."

We stand by that message, and urge lawmakers and others advocating more efficient government to consider a different approach. End term limits. Centralize staff. Reduce the time period for session days to make lawmakers more efficient.

When asked about the petition, Calley has said, "I am taking it directly to the boss — 'We the people, of Michigan.'"

Well, the people have spoken, multiple times throughout the years: A part-time Legislature is not the answer for Michigan.

— LANSING STATE JOURNAL (AP)

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