Eliminate the State Senate
Updated 4/21/11


In order to reduce costs and minimize the damage done by the state Legislature, a lot of people would like to make it part time. I think it would be better to eliminate the state Senate.

Eliminating the Senate will save more than $31 million a year. This is what is budgeted for the state legislature for fiscal year 2011 (from Fiscal Year 2011 Executive Budget, page B-23):

House of Representatives




Legislative Council


Property Management


Legislative Retirement System


House Fiscal Agency


Senate Fiscal Agency


(Non-specified Legislative Reductions)




Over $31 million is saved from eliminating the Senate ($28,632.0) and the Senate Fiscal Agency ($2,897.3). The Senate's share of the $3,424,100 cost for the retirement system may increase at first with all those newly-retired senators, but it will diminish over time. And less than the current $11,028,100 should be required for the Legislative Council, a bipartisan committee of the Legislature providing services such as bill drafting and research, and less than the current $11,799,300 should be required to manage, operate, maintain and repair the Capitol and the legislative office buildings ("Property Management"). We might even be able to rent out those vacant Senate offices and gain some revenue. 

Each Michigan citizen is currently represented by two legislators: a representative and a senator. There are 38 senators and 110 representatives. Each represents a district drawn to include a certain number of people: 90,000 for senators and 262,000 for representatives. This makes Michigan's senate very much unlike the U.S. Senate, where there are two senators per state and they serve at large. Since its members represent states rather than same-size groups of people, the U.S. Senate is not a democratic institution. This makes Michigan's senate superior to the U.S. Senate. It also makes it redundant - a mini-House of Representatives. Why do Michigan citizens need two representatives?

The 49 states that have a bicameral legislature apparently did so to mimic the U.S. legislative structure, but the situations were much different. The U.S. Senate was created created as a compromise to get the smaller states to sign on to the U.S. Constitution. This is from Wikipedia:

The Connecticut Compromise (also known as the Great Compromise of 1787 or Sherman's Compromise) was an agreement between large and small states reached during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 that in part defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution. . . .

In favor of the larger states, membership in the lower house . . . was to be allocated in proportion to state population and candidates were to be nominated and elected by the people of each state . . . [M]embership in the upper house . . . was to be allocated two seats to each state, regardless of size, with members being chosen by the state legislatures. Members of the Upper House . . . were elected by the State Legislature until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which called for the direct election of Senators by the people . . .

This agreement allowed deliberations to continue and thus led to the Three-Fifths Compromise, which further wrangled the issue of popular representation in the House. Less populous Southern States were allowed to count three-fifths of all non-free, non-Native American people toward population counts and allocations.

Michigan's senate has been population-based since 1964, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. Sims that state legislative districts that were not roughly equal in population violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. At the time of that decision, Michigan's senate was based 80% on population and 20% on area.

Eliminating the Senate means that legislation will only have to pass one house, which will make the legislative process more efficient. With a unicameral legislature, we might be able to get a state budget passed before October for a change.

Nebraska is currently the only state with a unicameral legislature, consisting of 49 senators. Each represents a district containing about 35,000 people. All Canadian provinces are unicameral.

A document in the Library of Michigan presents arguments for and against retaining a two-house legislature. It is from a debate that took place in 1971 between House Speaker William A. Ryan and Senator Carl D. Pursell on the "for" side and Representative Joseph P. Swallow on the "against" side. The cover sheet contains this statement:

Debate at this time is really academic, for in the absence of a successful petition drive, the people of Michigan will not be given the opportunity to cast a vote on this question.

My failed petition drive. In the fall of 2010, I began an effort to get a proposal on the ballot to eliminate the state Senate. I prepared the petition and registered a ballot question committee with the Secretary of State so contributions and expenditures could be reported. I named the committee the "Committee to Transform Michigan". My petition was approved "as to form" by the Board of State Canvassers on December 17, 2010 along with 3 others I prepared, all anti-union measures. But I had no intention of using the "eliminate the Senate" petition I had submitted to the Board. In order to show all the required changes to the Constitution AND all the changed sections as they currently appear (as required by statute), a 5-sheet extension would have been required. But I figured out a way to get by with a 1-sheet extension. First of all, I would ignore the requirement that all the changed sections be shown again without the changes. Second, I would use a table to deal with some of the short, simple, multi-occurring changes:

Phrase to be replaced



each house of the legislature

the legislature

Article II, Section 9; Article VI, Section 25

either house of the legislature

the legislature

Article III, Section 8; Article IV, Sections 7, 8 and 31

representative or senatorial district

representative district

Article IV, Section 4

senate and house of representatives

house of representatives

Article IV, Section 6

each senator and representative

each representative

Article IV, Section 7

either house

the legislature

Article IV, Section 11

senators and representatives


Article IV, Section 11

business, bill or joint resolution

business or bill

Article IV, Section 13

each house

the legislature

Article IV, Sections 14, 16, 18, 20, 26, 27, 29, 43, and 53; Article V, Section 2; Article VI, Section 1; Article IX, Sections 15 and 27; Article X, Section 5; Article XI, Section 5

of either house

(delete; no replacement)

Article IV, Section 18

in each house

(delete; no replacement)

Article IV, Section 18

each house of

(delete; no replacement)

Article IV, Section 30

that house


Article IV, Section 31

in both houses

(delete; no replacement)

Article V, Section 2

advice and consent of the senate

advice and consent of the legislature

Article V, Sections 3, 28 and 29; Article VIII, Section 6

senate or house of representatives


Article V, Section 13

in either house

(delete; no replacement)

Article V, Section 18

that house

the legislature

Article V, Section 18

Senate and in the House of Representatives


Article IX, Section 3

In January, I wrote a long letter to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson with a bunch of complaints about the Bureau of Elections requirements for petitions. This is from my letter:

We do not believe that the legislature intended that when an amendment alters existing sections of the Constitution, the amended sections be presented twice, first with the changes shown and a second time in their current form without the changes. MCL 168.482(3) says:

The full text of the amendment so proposed shall follow [the heading] and be printed in 8-point type. If the proposal would alter or abrogate an existing provision of the constitution, the petition shall so state and the provisions to be altered or abrogated shall be inserted . . .

We believe the intent was that if the proposal was a new provision and would not alter or abrogate an existing provision, the full text of the amendment would be presented. But if the proposal would alter or abrogate an existing provision of the constitution, the original text would be presented with the changes shown. Here is our reasoning:

  • Presenting the provisions to be amended as they currently exist has no value to the person considering signing the petition, since the original text is already presented within the amendment – new language CAPITALIZED, deleted language struck through.

  • Article XII, Section 2 of the Constitution says of amendment by petition, “Every petition shall include the full text of the proposed amendment . . . ,” but says nothing about including the original text.

  • The requirement that provisions to be amended be presented as they currently exist is inconsistent with the requirement regarding repealing legislation. With repeal, we are not required to present the text of the law that is being repealed, so the petition signer has no information at all about the law except for its title.

  • The requirement is that the amendment be presented first, followed by the original text. Ordinarily when some sort of change is presented, the original item is shown first, followed by the changed item – “before and after”, not “after and before.”

Christopher Thomas, Director of Elections, answered on behalf of the Secretary of State. His answer to my objection to including the "original text" starts on page 1 of his letter. In short, he said the issue had already been brought before the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Court found that the law required the original text to be included. He didn't like my table, either, so there was no way I could do this petition without the 5-sheet extension. The petition would be 4 feet 3 inches (6 times 8.5 inches) by 14 inches.

This did not change my plans. I resolved to go ahead and do it my way, including my table and excluding the original text. That would require only a 1-sheet extension. And when the Board of State Canvassers rejected it, I would take them to court - the Michigan Supreme Court, if necessary.

Later on, after the Committee to Transform Michigan membership grew from 1 to 5, the other members persuaded me to abandon the initiative to eliminate the Senate, pointing out that it didn't really fit with the other 3 initiatives and would only be a costly distraction.