Thursday, June 28, 2007

Michigan House of Representatives; Dysfunctional

The depth of the economic crisis in Michigan is greater than ever and there are no signs of a turnaround. Consider:
  • Michigan's unemployment rate of 6.9% is fully .9% higher than the next highest state, Mississippi.

  • In a recent poll done by EPIC/MRA fully 3% of those questioned said they would "definitely" be moving out of the state of Michigan because the economic or employment situation was so bad. That number would equal 300,000 residents!

  • We lost another 18,000 net jobs in the month of May.

  • Michigan's per capita income fell by .7% in the last five years; nationwide it rose 4.2%. Our per capita income is now 6.7% below the national average.

  • Michigan was the only state in the nation last month to experience a decline in Gross State Product.

  • Housing permits are down 39% from a year ago, the worst in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, there is little evidence that the Legislature is in any hurry to get the meaningful work done in a timely manner.  Consider:
  • The Single Business Tax, considered to be the worst business tax in the nation, was voted into oblivion last August. (It actually expires in December 31 of this year).  In spite of the general consensus that businesses in Michigan need to know what their future tax liability may be as soon as possible, it is now 10 months later and still no plan has been passed by the Legislature.

  • The '06-'07 budget, which ends on September 30th of this year, was found last January to be about $900 million in the red. Yet legislation to "fix" the shortfall was not finally completed until late May, five months later.

  • The '07-'08 budget begins October 1, 2007. Forecasts are for a revenue shortfall of perhaps $1.5 billion.  Virtually every school district in the state and many municipalities begin their budget year on July 1st and need to know how much state revenue to expect. The governor sent her budget to the Legislature in February. As of this writing, we have no budget and no plan to match revenues with spending.  

Why can't the House gets its work done?  I believe the answer can be found in our state constitution.  Michigan is one of only five states that place no deadline on its Legislature.  Most states have a date certain when it must be finished for the year. Generally, it is in the spring or early summer.  But not in Michigan. We have until the last day in December to finish.

We used to be much more responsible than this.  Until the early 1950's the Legislature only met every OTHER year. Until the mid 1960's the Legislature had a self-imposed deadline to get their work done by June. And until that time, the average length of stay in the House was around six years.  We had in effect, a time-limited, term-limited Legislature.

Today, we are in session year-round even though we only meet about 92 days per year.  But, because we have no deadline to get our work done, we seem to be in no hurry and typically don't get finished until we have to.

I believe the answer is to amend the state constitution to require the legislature to finish its work by May 1st each year.  We will still have enough time to meet as many days each year as we do now.  But under a deadline, we will roll up our sleeves and get to work immediately to balance the budget and pass truly essential legislation. Do you think it makes sense to put the Legislature on a deadline? Let me know what you think; send me an e-mail

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