Michigan budget reflects poorly on lawmakers
Too many legislators are either not reading budget bills or condoning the waste of taxpayer money
Every year the Michigan Legislature and the governor hammer out a budget to properly fund the state. The operative words are “properly fund,” and if we scrutinize the details of the 2023 budget, we will see failure.
Too much Lansing spending could be described as “improper funding.”
Residents witness the back-and-forth rhetoric between the executive and legislative branch. After all the mudslinging and posturing, they inevitably come into agreement. But the deals made often include pet projects that are not necessary for the government to function.
The 2023 budget is no exception. For example, Grand Rapids was given $30 million from state taxpayers to build a new amphitheater. The Traverse City Curling Club was awarded $2 million. How long will it be before every town demands the same for its sport or recreational activity of choice? Why do these cities get taxpayer treats while others do not?
The issue is not just lack of accountability and waste. How many legislators who voted for the budget knew these items were in it? The most recent budget, passed in July, was 516 pages long. According to Craig Mauger of the The Detroit News, several legislators said they did not know about some of the pork — specifically, $10 million for a Chaldean foundation — that was in the bill.
Lawmakers not having a thorough understanding of the state budget is unacceptable. It should be unthinkable.
But the pattern repeats and gets even worse in Washington, D.C. Congress routinely votes on bills running hundreds or even thousands of pages, in a time frame that doesn’t allow for reading and understanding.
As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, famously said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”
In 2018, an omnibus bill was created in secret and only shared with Congress 18 hours before a vote. The bill was 2,232 pages long.
The job of a Michigan legislator is considered full-time. With a $71,685 annual salary and a $10,800 annual allowance, Michigan’s state lawmakers are among the most highly remunerated in the United States. But a report from MLive in 2018 stated that the Michigan Senate was on track to meet only 82 days that year, and the House of Representatives was likely to only meet 83 days. There are comparable numbers every election cycle.
Take a look at the current session schedule. Dates highlighted in gray are session days. Most days on the calendar are not gray. The scheduled time off typically includes a break for hunting season, which will be upon us in a couple weeks.
Legislators get two to three weeks for spring break, which includes Passover and Easter. In the fall, they take a break for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Summer sessions are sparse, depending on the budget and whether there are time-sensitive issues. In an election year, not much work gets done in October. Apparently, elected officials need extended time away from lawmaking to prove to voters why they should be re-elected to make laws.
Michigan legislators make on average $71,685 with a $10,800 annual expense allowance, according to Ballotpedia. This does not include their benefits package. Only three states — California, New York and Pennsylvania — pay their lawmakers more than Michigan does.
In fairness, there is more to the job than session days. Legislators are supposed to engage in district activities, which on occasion can include weekends. Some legislators hold district office hours to meet with constituents.
But representatives have enough time off to read bills, understand them, and ask questions to deepen that understanding. Lawmakers who do not take the time to ensure taxpayer dollars are protected do not deserve to hold the office they were given by their bosses, the voters.
Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at email@example.com.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.