Sunday, December 10, 2006

Peter Luke: Part-time Legislature without term limits tops Christmas wish list

Yes, yes, yes. I loves me some Peter Luke. I have always been on the fence on term limits, but Luke makes a strong argument for ending them here.

He also points out some startling numbers on time and compensation from this year- and considering all that has been left undone- a pay cut is in order, don'tcha think?

I think the citizens of Michigan would agree.

Part-time in everything but name -- and pay -- Michigan's lawmakers retire for the year this week to take another long holiday, having completed little useful work. They leave behind a big pile of unfinished business.

How's that as an argument for ending term limits?

If lawmakers had any courage in a lame-duck session that limps to a close on Thursday, they would muster the two-thirds vote required in the House and Senate to put a term limits repeal on the 2008 ballot. If adopted at the polls, the constitutional amendment would nullify the 1992 voter-approved amendment that installed term limits.

Courage? This bunch? Surely you jest. This might take (yet another) outside ballot proposal.

The irony is that scheduling and taking such a vote requires a degree of political self-confidence that, because of term limits, doesn't much exist any more. But that doesn't mean such a vote shouldn't be taken, since term limits haven't delivered as advertised.

Sure they mean that less-able lawmakers pack up their belongings and leave every six or eight years. But packing their boxes, too, are lawmakers with a lot of good work left in them to develop the craft of legislative problem-solving.

Term limits essentially have replaced politicians who know a lot with politicians who know a little. By the time they know a little more, they are legally required to abandon their offices, even though most would be handily re-elected if it were left up to the voters and not an arbitrary limit.

OK. As happy as I am to see Kooiman walk out the door, you sold me Peter- as long as this next bit of information is taken into consideration and enacted.

Luke suggests a trade, and it's a good one.

So how to make repealing term limits appealing to voters? Trade repeal for something perhaps more valuable to them.

Since the Michigan Legislature already is part time, make it official. By Thursday, lawmakers will have spent just 95 days in session and just 25 days since July 1. So put it in the state constitution that lawmakers would have to complete their business by July 1 of every year. The governor could call them back in for a specific, extraordinary purpose. Committee work could be scheduled for the fall.

At nearly $92,000 annually in salary and expense allowance, the high rate of compensation for Michigan lawmakers will continue to stir resentment for years to come. Chopping that amount in half to $46,000 a year would put Michigan lawmakers at about the average paid to lawmakers in five neighboring Great Lakes states.

Michigan legislators would be in session for half the year at half the pay. Putting voters in charge of which lawmakers stay would allow the good ones to become twice as smart as they are now in running a state growing in economic and social complexity.

Would voters swap legislative term limits for a part-time Legislature and a 50-percent pay cut for politicians? They might, but only if lawmakers give them the chance.

Lawmakers won't give us the chance because they have such a sweet deal going here. Who wouldn't want to make 92 g's a year for 95 days? They would argue that they have to spend time in their districts "talking with constituents", I call bullshit on that. I'm sure if we put electronic tethers on their ankles (ooo, there's an idea), you'd find them on the golf courses and in the fancy restaurants and taking trips to... wherever.

I would stand and collect signatures on this one. After watching the fiasco that was this past year, I am more than eager to see some changes made in Lansing.

Time to wipe that smile of self-satisfaction right off DeRoche's face and make him work for a living. Wouldn't that be great?