Only Michigan legislators could be stupid enough to actually suggest that the state‘s budget crisis is anyone‘s fault but their own. Astoundingly, an op-ed in last Tuesday’s Detroit Free Press written by Tim Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe) and Larry Deshazor (R-Portage) reveals a serious streak of denial in the state House of Representatives. The op-ed claims the implementation of term limits is to blame for the inability of lawmakers to produce workable budgets over the past few years. By extension, since term limits were approved by voters via ballot referendum in 1992, the budget crisis is the fault of the taxpayers.
The Detroit Free Press followed up with an editorial a few days later that blamed voters more directly, writing, “Michigan voters have themselves to blame, at least in part, for the budget bedlam in Lansing.” The argument is this: Michigan’s term limit laws (three two-year terms in the state House and two four-year terms in the state Senate) result in heavy turnover in the legislature. With so many freshmen each year, it’s difficult for legislators to establish the long-term working relationships critical to the legislative process. In short, because of term limits, “everyone in Lansing is a short-timer.”
Yeah, right. Being able to spend up to 14 years in the state legislature doesn’t make anybody a short-timer. If you can’t do your job right in that amount of time, you really shouldn’t be asking for another term. It is the job of legislators to implement a workable budget for the upcoming fiscal year each year. To say that they can’t accomplish this task because they haven’t learned how to do their jobs yet is incredibly naïve.
Think about it: In what private sector job are you guaranteed to keep your job for at least two years? In what private sector job are you expected to take multiple years to be qualified enough to fulfill the position’s basic requirements?
We certainly wouldn’t apply this logic to other unpopular politicians. I don’t think anyone would have explained President George W. Bush’s failures by saying, “Well, this is really the fault of term limits that hold the president to eight years in office. He’ll get it right in years nine through twelve. By then, his administration will finally have that long-term working relationship thing going for it.”
The most fervent of Bush-haters might grimace at such a comparison, and consider it wrong — offensive, even — to compare the disastrous Bush presidency to the Michigan legislature. But Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state legislators have considerably damaged Michigan, probably to a greater extent than Bush ever did to the nation as a whole.
Michigan’s oppressive tax structure — namely, the Michigan Business Tax — drives more businesses away from the state each year. This, in turn, has contributed to a steady rise in unemployment, and the state currently has the worst unemployment rate in the country (15.1 percent as of October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). With businesses leaving the state in droves and jobs disappearing, it should come as no surprise that the state’s tax revenue streams are plummeting, resulting in a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. Without an economic plan that makes Michigan attractive to businesses again, the state will face even bigger deficits in subsequent years.
My point is that the state government has consistently failed to address these problems. Diminishing term limits will only allow the legislators who are responsible for such failures to extend their stays in office.
It’s common knowledge that incumbency comes with a multitude of built-in advantages in elections. Incumbents almost always have more available funds and better name recognition. In recent years, they have been re-elected 90 percent of the time nationwide. Term limits are one of the most effective political tools the challenger has at his or her disposal. In some cases, it is the only method of assuring that voters will eventually be rid of an ineffective lawmaker.
I’ll grant that Bledsoe and Deshazor’s proposal for changing term limits is mild — they only want to change the law so that a legislator can serve all 14 years in either the House or the Senate, rather than six in one and eight in the other. But how about this: We’ll think about shifting term limits after legislators have cut the budget deficit in half or fixed the tax structure.
Until then, Michigan’s financial problems will remain the fault of lawmakers, not the citizens who voted to put a check on their power.
Robert Soave is the Daily’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.