Cass County’s state Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, addresses Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday. (Leader photo/JOHN EBY)
Cass County’s state Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, addresses Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday. (Leader photo/JOHN EBY)

Archived Story

Proos pairs part-time with term limits

Published 7:13pm Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, hasn’t gotten much traction with his proposed part-time Legislature, so he’s ready to sweeten the deal with a review of term limits’ effectiveness.

Some would say the Legislature already works part-time, averaging 110 session days during his eight years in Lansing, including just 81 during 2012.

Forty-six states, including Indiana, lack fulltime lawmakers.

Proos pointed out for Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889 that he took a 10-percent pay cut moving from the House to the Senate, where he represents three times the constituents, 270,000 in Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties.

“I took a 435-percent increase in my health care, consistent with what’s happening with the folks I represent,” Proos said, “and lost two staff members because of cuts in the legislative budget that the Jelinek office had just a month earlier. In my mind, that’s consistent with the marketplace. I believe if we say we’re going to do our work in 90 days, we’ll do it — or 89.9 days. It will always go right up to the end, whether it’s 90 or 130 days. It seems consistent and smart to me to make a move to reform Michigan’s government. Even some of those 46 states do two-year budgets, coming in for six weeks and going home.”

“It’s not going very well,” he said. “A few of my colleagues don’t like the idea at all. I work fulltime on your behalf here at home and part-time in Lansing. I’m going to continue to pursue it — which logically brings up one more question at the end of this discussion that should also happen: review the effectiveness of term limits. As (former senator) Harry Gast taught me years ago, sometimes you’ve got to give to get. So maybe what constituents get is a part-time Legislature and a change to term limits.”

Voters imposed term limits in 1992 which became effective in 1993.

The senator said his office averages 500 responses weekly. “I’ve probably had 1,500 opinions sent to the office in the past six to eight weeks on taxes for road funding.”

Proos was asked if he is “honest or a politician who goes around the question?”

“This being Thursday of Holy Week, when Pope Francis is washing the feet of prisoners in Italy,” he said, “I was Jesuit-educated and when I look myself in the mirror, I know I’ve been honest. That’s the litmus test I put on myself in answering questions in the legislative process. First, is it moral, ethical and honest? Can I look my wife and mother in the eye? Is it good for constituents I serve and does it help to bring prosperity to the community by virtue of job creation? That’s how I make decisions. I get a lot of input and do research to help inform my position. Job growth is the best way for people at the bottom of the pay scale and people at the top to succeed together. If I’m not honest, you’ll see through it.”

Thanks to constitutional redistricting after the census every 10 years, Proos’ 21st District loses a small slice of Van Buren County to Allegan and Kent counties and gains part of St. Joseph County as of Jan. 1, 2015, to go with all of Cass and Berrien counties.

St. Joseph County was part of the district during Gast’s long tenure.

Proos succeeded Ron Jelinek Jan. 1, 2011, after six years in the House.

All 38 senators, 110 representatives, governor and U.S. House and Senate — speculation has already begun whether his former boss, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, will seek Sen. Carl Levin’s seat — will be up for re-election in 2014.

Proos, 43, spoke as the guest of Brad Yazel, with whom he shares a Dec. 10 birthday.

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What have you done to balance the budget?

 

“In the previous decade, ‘balanced budgets’ were based upon what we expected revenues to be cobbled together with one-time fixes of infusion of money, which was federal on two occasions in the eight years of the Granholm administration. It kind of pasted over a $1.5 billion structural deficit. Twice, we had small, short shutdowns before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year related to raising taxes to fill that hole or to find ways to cut spending. On Jan. 1, 2011, (Gov. Rick Snyder) starts the process of finding savings and cuts. Each year since then, we passed a budget before July 4 and a school aid budget by the end of May. We also put away money in the rainy day fund. When the Snyder administration came in, there was enough to operate state government for three minutes. We now have a $500 million cushion. There’s a fight in Lansing right now as to whether or not we should be using it. Twice, credit rating agencies in New York and Boston have given Michigan a positive outlook, as opposed to downgrades of our bond rating. Illinois’ went down again because they are buried by structural deficits, which we fixed and no longer have. Illinois increased business taxes 68 percent last year because it has constitutional requirements for unfunded liabilities. Michigan’s unfunded liabilities are teacher health care and retirement and state employee health care and retirement. Our credit card debt was about $54 billion. We had to write a $3 billion check to the federal government for the unemployment insurance liability. We had had so many people on unemployment that we depleted the trust fund and started taking IOUs from the federal government, which was going to assess penalties and interest on our loans. We bonded the whole thing with our better credit rating and saved taxpayers several billion dollars over its life by paying the federal government back in one fell swoop. State employees switched as of 1997 to defined contribution from defined benefit pensions. The promised benefit will be paid, but we do not have a constitutional obligation to pay anything on state employee or MPSERS (Michigan Public School Employees Retirement Service) health care liability. It’s a huge and challenging issue we’re going to continue to face. This is in part why Illinois is struggling and Michigan is getting a positive outlook. Michigan is at 80 or 81 percent of pension benefits for state employees, which is well-funded. But health care, we were paying as you go and none of the future costs and liability down, so that is a UAL, an unfunded accrued liability. Same for teachers. For every dollar, 38 cents go out the door to pay for retirees not currently participating in the workforce. Those are promised benefits. The pension side is guaranteed. Health care is not, but it is being provided and we’re starting to pay ahead to bring down future liability — not just the principal, but some interest on the mortgage.”

 

Is Medicaid expansion a hot issue?

 

“It’s part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the question is whether we expand to 138 percent of poverty and how do we pay for it? The federal government will pay for three years. After that, only 90 percent. The Department of Corrections budget expects a $24.5 million savings if we expand Medicaid. I passed a budget a week ago Tuesday that did not assume savings. Instead, I found $30.5 million in savings in the budget because until that question is answered, we shouldn’t be passing fictitious budgets. We don’t know what’s going to happen yet.”

(Southwestern Michigan College President Dr. David M. Mathews: “Half of Michigan births last year were on Medicaid. Maybe it needs to be done, but think about what that means for more costs.”)

Proos: “The federal government will have its hands on virtually all of our health care scenarios. They have to find ways to afford it, and the Obama administration is not in the least bit interested in watching this thing fail. They will do everything they can to continue to implement. I don’t believe any one of us would say we should not be there for those less fortunate. We’re Rotary, for crying out loud. Care for our fellow man, care for children, care for the last three countries that still have polio. Fact of the matter is, though, with increased cost will come significant challenges to each of us in this state, and I’m not sure we’ve got an easy path to get there yet. Implementation is going to be very challenging and has dominated Lansing, as has road funding. It’s going to be a lengthy debate until the budget in July.”

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