2007-06-09 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Term Limits Behind Lack of State Budget Progress
By George Weeks

Among costly consequences of the long delay in resolving the state budget woes was the downgrading of Michigan's credit rating by all three Wall Street firms that determine how much the state pays to borrow money.

And, in the view of many current and former lawmakers whose views I share, the long delay was one of the consequences of the term limits that voters approved overwhelmingly in 1992.

"Some of our dysfunction is due to term limits," Representative Howard Walker (RTraverse City) said in lamenting the current lack of relationships and trust that can develop across the aisles over time.

The subject came up during a recent discussion I had with Walker, who has a Michigan Technological University degree in forestry and has been active in land conservancy, about his commendable push to foster wind energy projects in Michigan. It's among issues overshadowed by the budget battle.

As Governor Jennifer Granholm and the legislature neared agreement on dealing with an $800 million deficit for the current fiscal year that ends September 30, and pondered a projected shortfall of nearly $2 billion for the next year, Walker said: "We'll get it done" - but could get it done sooner were it not for term limits.

Walker, who favored the term limits ballot proposal, was elected in 2002 and now is in his third and last term. But his lament is not sour grapes. It is shared by many seasoned Lansing observers of the agonizing recent months of costly dysfunction and lack of trust.

Public television's Tim Skubick, longest-serving member of the Capitol press corps, wrote in his newspaper column last month: "The three major players trying to bang out an agreement have a combined total of 15 years of Lansing experience. To say that the governor, House speaker, and Senate GOP leader are old hands at this would be wrong. They aren't and it's showing. For openers, they don't always trust each other and minus that, you can't reach an accord."

Bill Ballenger, a former state senator and now editor-publisher of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, observed as gridlock ground into mid-April: "In the past, an effective governor has made a difference. George Romney and Bill Milliken, in particular, were nearly always able to cobble together something that got narrow bipartisan support in the Legislature, even when one or both chambers were controlled by the opposition party. Those days are gone."

Northern Limits

As noted here previously, all four of northern Michigan's state senators are term-limited and cannot run again in 2010. There's not likely to be any change in the partisan lineup.

Inside Michigan Politics, which analyzes voting patterns in legislative districts to determine "base party strength," deems the seat of Senator Michael Prusi (D-Ishpeming) as "solid Dem." You bet. He was preceded by the long reigns of Democrats Philip Rahoi, Joe Mack, and Don Koivisto. (A Republican, Joseph P. Cloon of Wakefield, represented Dickinson, Gogebic, Iron, and Marquette counties in the mid- 1900s.)

The seats of Senators Jason Allen (R-Traverse City) and Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau) are pegged "likely GOP." Allen's district includes the eastern Upper Peninsula, which has a Democratic state representative.

That of Senator Tony Stamas (R-Midland) is "lean GOP." Two Democratic House members, Representatives Joel Sheltrown of West Branch and Matthew Gillard, represent substantial portions of Stamas' district.

The seat of term-limited Gillard is rated "toss-up" for 2008, as is the seat of term-limited Representative David Palsrok (R-Manistee). Sheltrown's seat is called "likely Dem," as is that of Representative Gary McDowell (DRudyard).

Deemed "solid GOP" is Walker's to-be-open House seat, as well as those of Representatives Kelvin Elsenheimer, (R-Bellaire) and Darwin Booher (R-Evart).

Not so comfortable for Republicans is the "lean Dem" district of term-limited Representative Tom Casperson (REscanaba), who is considering a 2008 challenge of U.S. Representative Bart Stupak (DMenominee).

George Weeks retired last year after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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