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Part-time Legislature group seeks signatures by mail, ads

Posted at 10:58 AM, Dec 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-11 10:58:58-05

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Organizers of a ballot drive to make the Michigan Legislature a part-time body and slash lawmakers’ pay said they have mailed hundreds of thousands of petitions to voters in the hopes they will gather signatures from their friends and family.

The Clean Michigan committee announced the plan Monday, in conjunction with radio and online ads urging people to sign the petition. The group needs roughly 315,000 valid signatures within a 180-day window to get the constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot.

Spokesman John Yob said the committee is two-thirds of the way toward its goal and is on track to submit the petitions to the state by the mid-January deadline. The ballot committee has also been using paid circulators and volunteers to collect signatures since July.

“We are putting this decision directly in the hands of voters by mailing hundreds of thousands of petitions across the state so they can decide if they want to put the issue on the ballot and give voters the option of making this important change like most other states,” Tom McMillin, a Republican member of the State Board of Education and a former legislator, said in a statement.

The constitutional amendment would require lawmakers to adjourn their regular session by April 15 of each year, slashing their pay from nearly $72,000 to half the average teacher’s salary, which is roughly $64,000. Although the measure would tie legislator pay to teacher pay, it would have no effect on how much teachers earn or benefit them in any discernable way.

Until last month, the ballot initiative was being spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who handed off leadership of the effort to McMillin, former Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema and grassroots activists before launching a run for governor.

As of October, the group had raised $887,000, spent $733,000 and had $154,000 on hand. Nearly all of its money came from three sources: the Fund for Michigan Jobs, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit that is not required to disclose its donors ($666,000); Capital Sales Co., a Hazel Park-based distributor of snacks, tobacco and other items to convenience stores and other businesses; and Kalamazoo-area businessman William Parfet.

The group also received $301,000 of in-kind media and advertising support from a Calley-connected independent political action committee.

The proposal is opposed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which says it would dramatically weaken the legislative branch in favor of the executive branch and further empower non-elected state bureaucrats.

Michigan, where legislators can serve no more than 14 years, is among 10 states with a full-time legislature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sixteen states have a part-time legislature, and 24 are “hybrids” — with lawmakers who typically say they spend more than two-thirds of a full-time job being lawmakers.