MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) — Likely gubernatorial candidate Brian Calley announced Tuesday that he is leading a ballot drive to make the Michigan Legislature part-time, saying his proposal would let lawmakers conduct the state’s business but leave less time for “procrastination, politics and posturing.”
Calley, the Republican lieutenant governor, is expected to run for governor in 2018, when the Clean MI Government initiative would be on the statewide ballot if enough signatures are collected.
Legislators could meet no more than 90 consecutive days a year under the plan, unless the governor calls a special session. They now meet off and on throughout the year.
Their annual pay would be slashed from about $72,000 to an amount equaling about half of the average teacher’s salary. If lawmakers met the full 90-day period and the average school year is around 180 days, their new pay would be about $32,000 based on 2015-16 data compiled by the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council.
Michigan is among 10 states with a full-time legislature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“It really does beg the question: Why is that? We know that we don’t need more laws and regulations than other states,” Calley said on Mackinac Island, on the eve of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference for business, political and civil leaders. “Make no mistake: There will be plenty of time to do the state’s business. There will just be less time for procrastination. There will be less time for politics and posturing. There will be less time to propose thousands of new laws each year. Sometimes, less is more.”
Sixteen states have a part-time legislature, and 24 are “hybrids” — with legislators who typically say they spend more than two-thirds of a full-time job being lawmakers.
Calley, who backed a proposed part-time legislature constitutional amendment when he was in the House, released an online ad on the ballot committee’s website and said the plan would save money, make government more efficient and allow more people to serve because they would not have to abandon their careers. The measure would add existing prohibitions against pensions and retiree health care for new legislators to the constitution.
The group will need about 315,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder cannot run again due to term limits. Saginaw doctor Jim Hines is the only Republican who is actively campaigning.
But both Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette are expected to run. An independent political action committee has been running online ads for more than a month touting Calley and building anticipation about Tuesday’s announcement. He is expected to make another significant announcement on Thursday. Schuette also has supported a part-time legislature.
An anti-Calley group that re-emerged Tuesday said voters should be wary of him when it comes to ballot measures. The Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals, which opposed a 2015 road-funding proposal that voters defeated by a 4-to-1 margin, noted that Calley had backed the plan.
“Brian Calley has a history of supporting special interests and higher taxes. When it comes to statewide proposals, he says one thing and does another,” said Randall Thompson, the organization’s president.
He said the group would be more comfortable if people such as now-U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, who led the opposition to the 2015 measure, or Schuette led conservatives’ movement for a part-time legislature.
While some conservative activists have long talked about part-time legislative proposals, Calley said the movement has lacked a “statewide presence” to activate the grassroots and fight the “establishment.” He said no decision has been made on whether the committee will pay people to gather signatures.
Calley’s announcement drew criticism from Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group whose staff protested outside the event at a Mackinac Island hotel.
Executive director Lonnie Scott said it was the “perfect place to announce something that’s going to allow more corporate control and lobbyist influence in our Legislature, which is exactly what a part-time Legislature would do.”
Michigan Democratic Party chairman Brandon Dillon echoed similar sentiments, calling the proposal a "gimmick."
"It should be a legislature that actually represents what people are asking for, better education, better roads," he told FOX 17. "Whether you get a full time or part time Legislature, the key is actually having a Legislature in tune with working class families and this administration has not been.”
FOX 17s Josh Sidorowicz contributed to this report.