Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Detroit News. May 11, 2022.

Editorial: Revamping term limits would help Michigan

Michigan voters will have the chance to revisit the matter of term limits this November after 30 years of a system that failed to deliver on its promised benefits. This is the first tangible step to fixing a serious problem.

Each chamber of the Legislature on Tuesday widely approved putting the measure on the ballot, securing the necessary two-thirds majorities. Voters will decide whether to modify the length of time lawmakers can spend in the House and Senate, in addition to adding transparency requirements.

It’s somewhat concerning this moved through the Legislature so quickly, just one day after a coalition of groups that had backed the original ballot proposal asked it to do so. There was no debate over the constitutional amendment, which seems at odds with the effort to boost transparency.

But that doesn’t change the wisdom of getting term limits right.

The proposal committee, Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, started out earlier this year gathering signatures, but reaching the required 425,059 signatures by July 11 was a heavy lift and it turned to lawmakers instead.

The effort has achieved bipartisan support, with the backing of Democratic Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and former Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger.

The proposal would allow lawmakers to spend a total of 12 years in one chamber. So while the overall years of service would be less than currently allowed, lawmakers could gain additional experience and knowledge in either the House or Senate, rather than splitting their time between the two chambers as they are encouraged to now.

It would also add needed financial disclosure requirements for a range of state-level officeholders to help prevent conflicts of interest among elected officials. Only Michigan and Idaho don’t require this in some form.

In 1992, voters approved a constitutional amendment that applied strict term limits to the House and Senate, in addition to other top elected officials. Lawmakers could serve a total of three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate.

That has created a system where lawmakers are landing leadership positions long before they have the know-how to execute those roles effectively. And the revolving door of elected officials has allowed lobbyists to achieve much more influence.

As Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, observed in a statement: “By enabling lawmakers to serve out all their time in one chamber, even if for an overall shorter period of 12 years instead of the current 14, individuals would be free to focus on issues that are important to the communities they represent rather than on their next career move.”

Some transparency advocates are criticizing the Legislature for changing the language around financial disclosure. Lawmakers removed a provision that would have mirrored disclosure requirements for members of Congress, and they also altered a proposed requirement to more broadly report travel payments and reimbursements. Instead, they will only have to report such expenses that already have to be reported by lobbyists.

The original language was better, but these changes would still put Michigan on a path toward a more open government.

Michigan’s strict term limits are a failed experiment, and voters finally have a chance to improve the system.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. May 11, 2022.

Editorial: Waiver good but keep digging

Sometimes it’s what’s not said that catches the attention.

Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency announced last week that more than 55,000 claimants will not have to pay back approximately $431 million in federal pandemic unemployment benefits — overpayment benefits that the agency “previously determined to have been improperly awarded.”

Not said: “previously determined to have been improperly awarded” — by the UIA.

Overall, the finger-pointing comes secondary to relief for the 55,000 people left in limbo after losing their job in the pandemic, then getting a coffee-spitter of a shock when the UIA realized its error and made initial overtures at clawing the funds back.

Claimants who’d already paid down their overpayment by $11M will get refunds, reads the announcement.

Fraud claims will not get waviers, it adds, and the agency will continue to “vigorously pursue restitution” of any stolen benefits.

While that’s reassuring that we won’t be waiving fraud claims, what’s left unaddressed is how the problems got so far afield.

We have a little insight from an ex-UIA worker who pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He told investigators he made between $50 and $150 for every false claim he approved, estimating $500,000 to $1.5M in agency losses, according to Click On Detroit reporting.

This dovetails with the March report from the Auditor General that found UIA officials failed to ensure staffing contractors were liable for $3.8 million in fraud committed by their employees. The UIA didn’t conduct background checks on 5,500 part-time employees hired in response to the pandemic-fueled mountain of claims, and that some had prior misdemeanor and felony convictions, including for armed robbery, embezzlement and identity theft. The report also found that some of these employees still worked at the agency.

Previous inspections found the agency made about $8.5 billion in improper payments.

That’s a lot of mistake money.

Now what’s said sounds good — relief for people who tried to do right by the rules, plus low unemployment numbers to boot.

But we urge the UIA to keep digging into its systems, to root out the troubles that have plagued it for more than a decade. There’s still a lot to say.

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