Economic Development, Government, and Law

Part-time legislature proposal under fire

GR Chamber of Commerce forum discusses a number of current and upcoming policy issues, including Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s plan.

June 9, 2017
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Eight West Michigan legislators recently sat down for a roundtable forum hosted by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce to discuss current and upcoming policy issues.

State Representatives Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township), Thomas Albert (R-Grattan Township), Steven Johnson (R-Wayland), Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), Rob VerHeulen (R-Walker) and Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Township) were joined by state Senators Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) and Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) at the chamber’s Breakfast with Legislators event last week.

Following a brief update from West Michigan Policy Forum Chair John Kennedy, the panel espoused on a range of topics, including proposed changes to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, the Good Jobs for Michigan package and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s recently announced proposal to switch to a part-time legislature. The panel roundly panned Calley’s proposal, with Afendoulis terming the plan “another page out of the book of bad ideas.”

The main tenets of Calley’s plan calls for limiting legislative sessions to 90 days, cutting legislative pay to equal the average salary for a teacher in Michigan — $30,937.50 for 90 days work — and banning legislative pensions and retiree health care. Calley announced his plan May 30 at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Afendoulis said if the state were to move to a part-time legislature without eliminating, extending or modifying term limits, it would lead to an ineffectual governing body already dealing with constant re-legislating of policies enacted several terms prior. He added the proposal would “minimize” the number of experienced candidates willing to dip their toe into politics.

Afendoulis’ colleagues at the table echoed his sentiment.

“I think that the current term limits (are) bad enough,” VerHeulen said. “We’ve got a $50-billion budget, you’ve got very complex subjects and you really don’t have time to develop the expertise that the people of Michigan deserve.”

Johnson said he supports the idea of a part-time legislature but also sees the concerns of giving the executive branch too much power and said it is necessary to be done in the right way.

On the subject of the Good Jobs for Michigan legislative package that cleared the Senate in March, the legislators were less uniform in their responses. Senate Bills 242 through 244 would allow for increased incentives for companies that relocate to or expand within the state.

MacGregor was effusive in his praise for the bill and said Gov. Rick Snyder would like to sign the bill into law, but the bill currently is being negotiated in the House Committee for Tax Policy, of which Johnson is a member.

Johnson said the committee has yet to hold a hearing on the legislative package but voiced his concerns about the bill, primarily his belief that the government should not be getting involved with the free market. He shared an anecdote from one of his constituents, a small business owner who is struggling to compete with a large corporation that qualified for extensive tax credits.

“Our role should be low taxes, less regulations and an even, equal playing field that everyone can compete on,” Johnson said.

However, Brann noted the government will be involved with businesses no matter what, and Afendoulis cited the past six years in which the corporate income tax was lowered to a “reasonable level” and regulations were rolled back as examples of the state’s strong business climate. Afendoulis said it would be a missed opportunity not to take advantage of Michigan’s stature as a business-friendly state.

“These companies are coming, saying, ‘We want to be in Michigan,’ and we have a lot of advantages over other states,” he said.

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