Part-time push gets past talking stage

Guest Editorial
Through the years, much has been said in favor of the Michigan Legislature becoming part-time. Many of the state’s newspapers advocate it, and of members of the public in substantial numbers have expressed their support.

If changing the Legislature has been a consistent topic of discussion, it hasn’t moved beyond the talking stage — until now. A petition drive hopes to give voters a chance to decide whether a part-time Legislature in Michigan truly is warranted.

The western Michigan-based Committee to Restore a Part-Time Legislature is leading the effort. If the group has its way, Michigan’s Constitution would be amended to allow the Legislature to meet for 60 days a year, and lawmakers’ annual salaries would be cut from $71,685 to $35,000.

The Board of State Canvassers decided Thursday the petition’s language was acceptable. Organizers must collect at least 322,609 valid signatures by July 7 to see the proposal appear on the November ballot.

That doesn’t seem to be a lot of time to meet that requirement. But Norman Kammeraad, the group’s leader, believes the July 7 deadline will be met, and that the goal is to collect 400,000 signatures.

Unlike most successful statewide petition drives, the Committee to Restore a Part-Time Legislature won’t be paying workers to gather signatures. It is confident the names it needs can be gotten the old-fashioned, grass-roots way.

Kammeraad told veteran political columnist Tim Skubick he hopes to attract those with “tea party” sentiments, a logical step, given conservatives’ natural aversion to big government. There’s also the sense among voters regardless of their core beliefs that a full-time Legilsature is a luxury the state can’t afford.

Only three other states — California, Pennsylvania and New York — have full-time legislatures. Michigan shouldn’t be one of them.

Again, we have heard the arguments against our full-time Legislature, but we haven’t seen a ballot issue to change its status. Perhaps this year, we will.