What does the proposal do?
The initiative does three simple things:
First, it limits the legislature’s annual law-making sessions to about three months each year. This puts Michigan more in line with other states, 41 of which currently operate on a limited or part-time basis.
Second, it ties legislator pay to that of teachers. So for example, the average teacher salary in Michigan last year was about $62,000 and teachers are required to be in the class room for 180 days. Under this proposal, since the legislature would be in session for three months, the salary would be set at about $31,000.
Finally, the proposal disallows pensions and retiree healthcare for legislators.
Why tie legislator pay to that of teachers?
Teacher compensation is a good model for legislative pay because a) like legislators, teachers serve in districts spread all across our state. The average compensation of a teacher represents a good statewide benchmark with which to base legislative pay; and b) the job involves public tax payer funded service with a set number of required days.
Why is this a good idea?
There are many reasons that 41 other states have decided not to have full-time, year around law making activities. Here are some of the biggest reasons.
First, it saves money. Michigan has the 4th highest paid legislators in the country. The changes in this proposal would save about $7-8 million on those salaries and benefits alone. Law making activities do generate a lot of work and expense to the tax payers, so if you limit law-making, you’ll save even more on operational expenses.
Second, limited session days with a deadline will result in a more efficient process. Today’s system allows for too much posturing, politics and procrastination. The legislative activity typically ramps up just before two long-term session breaks each year – one before summer and one before Christmas. Things get logjammed at these times because the system tends to put off hard or complicated work until there is a deadline. This proposal would require that we get in, get the important work done, and go back home.
Finally, this proposal moves us more to a true citizen based legislature. The people making laws would spend less time inside Lansing, living most of their lives back home, under the laws that they make.
Is 90 session days enough time to get the state’s law-making work done?
Yes. 41 other states, including some pretty big and complex states, limit their law-making activities to only certain times of the year. Many do it in fewer than 90 days. Actually, Michigan often does it in under 90 days during election years. They just currently spread those days through the entire year.
Previous year comparisons in Michigan
2016 House: 88 days of session
2016 Senate 87 days of session
2015 House: 104 days of session
2015 Senate: 112 days of session
What about things like constituent services? Will those be limited by this proposal?
This proposal sets compensation for legislators and how many session days are held each year. It does not set staffing levels for constituent services or other legislative operations. Those decisions would be made as part of the annual budget process as they are today.
What if there is an emergency?
The proposal does allow for special sessions to be called by the Governor as is allowed under the constitution today.
Will anyone be willing to serve if legislator compensation is reduced?
Yes. Just take a look around the country. This proposal puts Michigan more in line with what happens in other states, and they have no problem with competitive elections between people interested in serving.
But won’t that limit who can serve to either retired people or wealthy people?
Actually, this proposal would likely increase the pool of potential legislators. Stepping away from your job for 90 days each year won’t work for everyone, but it will be a bigger pool of people than those who can leave for 2 years. Again, looking across the country, Michigan’s is the outlier.
Should this proposal extend or eliminate term limits?
There is a very active debate about term limits in Michigan and across the country. That’s a different issue and should be evaluated on its own merits without being attached to another proposal.
Will this disrupt the power between branches of Government?
No. The legislature still makes the laws and the executive branch implements the laws. Holding session for three months in a row rather than spreading about 90 days of session over the entire year does not change that balance. Further, if the executive branch oversteps in its interpretation of the law, it is the judiciary that checks that power.
Also, both executive and legislative branches drive the law making process. Both are involved in making new laws. Therefore, to the extent that law making is limited, that limitation applies to both branches.
Will this proposal concentrate more power in the hands of Lansing insiders and special interests?
Quite the opposite. Today, the legislators gather year around in one place, making lobbying much easier. By limiting the law-making activities to a three month period, you ensure that the decision makers spend most of their lives in the communities they represent. Exercising influence from outside that community will be much harder.