Too Much Time on Their Hands
by Ken Braun, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Michigan substantially overpays its lawmakers relative to virtually every other state. However small an amount of money it would represent relative to the size of their spending problem, putting lawmakers on part-time pay would be an important and symbolic first step toward reducing the size, scope and cost of state government.
Michigan lawmakers receive a $79,650 annual salary, plus an additional $12,000 expense account. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, Michigan has the second-highest paid legislators in America. Well over half the states pay lawmakers less than half of what Michigan does. Some much less than that:
- New Hampshire pays $200 for a two-year term
- Alabama $10 per session day
- New Mexico, nothing (just expenses).
Michigan is one of a dozen or so states with a full-time Legislature. There is no evidence that it needs to be full-time or that we are better governed than the part-time states. Texas, the second largest state in both people and geography, has part-time lawmakers and pays them just $7,200 annually.
"Full-time" is also a relative term. In 2006, the Legislature met fewer than 100 days. Neither the House nor the Senate scheduled a single session day during the month of October - coincidentally the month before Election Day. Each met just six days in August.
It cost taxpayers $113.9 million for their Legislature in fiscal year 2006. This divides out to $167,000 per law passed and approximately $54,000 per bill introduced. We could do without much of this legislative activity. For example, last year a dozen bills designed to name or rename roadways after historical people, groups and politicians were pending in legislative committees. Seven received enough attention to become laws.
Two that became laws, one to rename a highway after President Ronald Reagan and another to commemorate the UAW Sit-Down Strike, got bogged down in a minor partisan dispute between pro-UAW and pro-Reagan lawmakers. Several amendments and hearings later, the bills were tie-barred to each other - meaning one could not become law without the other - and the governor signed them both.
The Senate unanimously passed a proposal to rename a prison after a former lawmaker.
The committees that got those bills renaming roads also had more than 20 bills pending for 2006 which dealt with specialty license plates, such as those that picture university logos.
There were bills pending in both chambers to designate official state birds, fruits and a Poet Laureate.
Even when nothing happens to them, these bills all require the time of legislative staff and attorneys to draft them. What has been listed here are only some of the more egregious examples of needless lawmaking and activity by one of the few full-time legislatures in America. A lot of state government needs to be downsized and cutting back to part-time lawmakers isn't a bad place to begin.
Kenneth M. Braun is a former employee of the Michigan House of Representatives and nowa policy analyst specializing in fiscal and budgetary issues for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.
To learn more about the part-time legislature issue go to: http://parttimemichigan.googlepages.com