The Merkt Plan: Fewer Elections

Assemblyman Rick Merkt wants to reduce the number of legislative elections by giving Senators one six-year term and one four-year term every decade; the Assemby would get two three-year terms, followed by a four-year term. The Morris County Republican wants the Legislature to allow voters to decide whether they want a Constitutional Amendment to allow this. Dear Mr. Speaker: As we have discussed in the past, I have proposed an assembly concurrent resolution to place on the ballot a constitutional amendment to extend the terms of legislators. Assembly members would go on a 3-3-4 year cycle, and senators a 6-4 year cycle. This would have the effect of giving legislators more time to complete pending work, while reducing the number of legislative elections each decade from five to three (also, therefore, decreasing legislative ‘down-time’ significantly). If both houses approve the ACR this spring, it could go on the ballot this fall for approval by the voters, enabling cancellation of the Assembly elections currently scheduled for 2009. The current two-year legislative term is simply too short to be useful. Freshmen, be they senators or assembly members, spend their first year learning the ropes, and then they are confronted with a “short” legislative year. The result is that they cannot get much of anything done in a two-year term. Longer terms would afford them the chance to learn the job and still be productive in a first term. A three-year term for assembly members would also enable veteran members to get more work through the house, as there would be two “long” years in which to process bills before the next election curtails legislative activity. It would also overcome the perpetual problem that assembly members never stop campaigning for office. In effect, it would increase the Assembly’s working efficiency by about two-thirds, because two “short” years would be eliminated in each ten period. The Senate would experience similar benefits in efficiency by eliminating the two-year term of office at the beginning of each decade. The first term for senators would increase to six years, identical to the length of terms for United States senators. The second term would be four years in duration (the same as the Assembly’s third term), to maintain the ten-year reapportionment cycle. From the public’s perspective, the proposal offers several benefits. First, it significantly reduces the amount of money in politics, by reducing the number of legislative elections to be funded each decade from five to three. It means that legislators can be less focused on raising campaign funds and more focused on their legislative service to the people. Second, increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the public’s representatives (especially new legislators), by letting them get more done in a legislative session (perhaps also reducing, to some degree, the number of reintroduced bills that fall short of approval in a two-year term). Indeed, many constituents have told me over the years that they recognize the current two-year term is too short to get much done. Third, it conveys the image of a Legislature that is engaged in the people’s work, rather than constantly running for office. This cannot help but improve the public’s confidence in its legislators. From a political perspective, my proposal affords every member of the Legislature both greater stability in office and opportunity to advance his or her legislative agenda. It spares legislators significant expenditures on campaigns and also maintains the current arrangement under which senators only run when assembly members are also running for office. There would be no coincidence with a Presidential campaign until 2024. The proposal would not even impact the Senate until 2011, at which time senators would run for a six-year term. Mr. Speaker, I believe the timing right now is propitious for this proposal. The normal political calculus that so often interferes with efforts to improve the system should not derail this idea. It will have no bearing at all on the 2007 legislative elections, as far as I can discern, and there is good reason to believe that it will be popular with a vast, bi-partisan majority of legislators, as well as acceptable to the general public. Indeed, I have discussed the proposal with at least a dozen legislative colleagues, and most have voiced support for the ACR, believing it will produce a better and more effective Legislature. We have a window of opportunity to get this proposal done and put before the people for their decision this fall. I would request that ACR-151 be posted for consideration in the Assembly State Government Committee as soon as possible, so that we can discuss its merits (and drawbacks, if any) in a public forum. Sincerely, Richard A. Merkt Assemblyman, 25th District

The Merkt Plan: Fewer Elections