The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 06, 2014

Minimum wage petition drive now a wasted effort - or is it?

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – While workers in Michigan enjoyed some rare good news with the passage of a higher statewide minimum wage, the legislative process revealed a bare-knuckled GOP political move that could prove costly to Democratic candidates, or perhaps Republicans –  in the November general election.

Gov. Snyder’s signature on Senate Bill 138 incrementally raises the minimum wage over the next four years to $10.10 per hour – but it also repeals the existing state minimum wage law. And the repeal of that law – instead of a simple replacement – throws into question the viability of a statewide petition which would ask voters on Nov. 4 to institute a $10.10 per hour statewide minimum wage.

The Raise Michigan Coalition, which is leading the petition drive, needed 258,088 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the higher minimum wage question for the ballot, and they reportedly turned in more than 300,000 names on May 28, despite the new law. But the Legislature’s repeal of the existing minimum wage law means the petition drive is likely invalid because there now is no $7.40 per hour state minimum wage law to repeal.

“We know this is the only Republican conservative Legislature to consider an increase in the minimum wage, and that’s a direct result of our work on the campaign,” said Danielle Atkinson, a representative for Raise Michigan, told the AP.  She said the issue could end up in the courts because Michigan is in “uncharted territory,” contending she has never seen a legislature repeal a law about which citizens are petitioning the government.

While calling the final compromise minimum wage bill “reasonable,” a Detroit Free Press editorial on May 27 said: “We remain disturbed by the Legislature’s end-run around the initiative process. If lawmakers want to diminish the authority that the Michigan Constitution invests in the state’s voters, it should do so openly by amending the constitution, not through parliamentary tricks.”

The minimum wage hike was adopted in a bipartisan manner, and to get it done, there were all kinds of tradeoffs. Republicans would only consider the increase if the legislation had language that would negate the petition drive – and a likely prompting of more Democrats going to the polls in November . Republicans also took away an election year Democratic talking point that the GOP wasn’t willing to raise the minimum wage, which hasn’t gone up since 2008.

On the Dems’ side, it would have been difficult to turn down a minimum wage hike that wins a 25 percent rather than a hoped-for 36 percent increase in the wage – but with a package that includes an historic adjustment upward every year for inflation.

An EPIC/MRA poll released just before the minimum wage vote found widespread state support for a $10.10 minimum wage – and 54 percent opposition among all demographic groups to the Republican legislative tactic to circumvent the petition drive.

“There is such a fear among Republicans of having a (minimum wage) ballot proposal in November , that they’re trying to figure out a way to avoid that from happening,” said Bernie Porn, president of EPIC/MRA, just before the vote. “The blatant way they’re dealing with it — by eliminating the law — is meeting with great disfavor, even among Republican (respondents).

“They could pay a price this election by trying to get it off the ballot.”

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) has admitted to the tactic of usurping the petition drive by raising the wage pre-emptively.

Randy Block was one of hundreds of signature gatherers whose efforts were made moot by the Legislature – unless a court allows the petition language to go through. “It’s taking away power from the public,”  Block told the Lansing State Journal.“They’re not only taking away our minimum wage proposal, but also the right of citizen initiatives.”