The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 21, 2014

Far right may seek to trade road funding for prevailing wage repeal

By The Building Tradesman

The Michigan GOP enters the upcoming lame duck session knowing they will have a super-majority next year after the pickup of four house seats and one senate seat in the general election. Thirty legislators will have one more chance to make a mark on the state before they return to civilian life due to term limits.

While infrastructure looks to be a central focus of the state’s GOP — something labor officials are excited about — it is possible that outgoing legislators will use their last days in office to try to repeal the state’s prevailing wage laws — something labor officials are fiercely opposed to.

Political analyst Bill Ballenger told that prevailing wage repeal, “has been a long-sought goal of the business community and conservative Republicans over the years.”

Outgoing Senate Majority leader Randy Richardville told that he is not interested in repealing the law and does not expect the law to be taken up in the lame duck session. However, in what is perhaps a bit of evil foreshadowing, newly elected Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof countered: “He is the majority leader until the end of the year, and the majority leader will set the agenda.”

As a member of the state Senate, Meekhof was the chief sponsor of a bill to repeal the prevailing wage. He, too, says the issue is not on his agenda. Oddly for Michiganders, though, this promise is as much cause for concern as it is a comfort. Gov. Rick Snyder famously uttered those very words before signing off on “right-to-work” legislation two lame duck sessions ago.

On the positive side of speculation, there is the infrastructure issue. Roads became a central theme of the 2014 elections and the GOP understands that if they do not take action at year’s end they will have to answer to constituents when they return from Lansing to their districts. The state has some of the worst roads in America.

Bridge Magazine laid out the situation facing both Michigan lawmakers and drivers: “Michigan spends less per capita on its roads than any other state in the nation. Michigan spends $174 per person annually on transportation. Our neighbors in Illinois and Ohio each spend $235. Minnesota spends $315.”

A majority of the public is willing to pay more in taxes for better roads, according to polling and community conversations sponsored by The Center for Michigan, a nonpartisan think-tank which publishes Bridge Magazine.

“The state doesn’t have $1 billion (the amount Snyder says is needed) lying around in its couch cushions, and there’s little agreement about where to find the money. Snyder has proposed an increase in the gas tax and in auto registration fees, but that will be an even tougher sell in 2015 with additional Tea Party members in the Legislature. That’s one reason Snyder, less than 12 hours after being re-elected, said he would push for road funding in lame duck, with the hopes that term-limited legislators who didn’t want to raise taxes before the election will be willing to do so now.”

State Rep. Bill Rogers concurred that roads will be the major issue, although he does not know if answers to the complex issue of financing road projects will be found during the lame duck. “I expect there will be something done about roads. I don’t know if we’ll come up with a 100 percent solution, but we could provide a start for those coming in.”

For Democrats, passage of a roads bill in the lame duck session may be more favorable than the framework being created by the next group of legislators. The concern is that the $1 billion needed to improve roads will be cited by the far right as a reason to repeal the prevailing wage in the name of offsetting costs.

Ballenger expects any attempt at repeal to bring a swift and strong response from the left, he told Michigan Radio: “If Republicans move to repeal prevailing wage, they can expect unions to react the same way they did to the passage of the right-to-work law and bring cries of bloody murder from the Democrats if that happens.”

(From We Party Patriots, a pro-union blog)