Few people in Michigan are crazy about raising the sales tax by a penny, even if passage of Proposal 1 on May 5 means raising at least $1.2 billion more in money for roads and added dollars to fund education.
But lurking behind failure of Proposal 1 is a darker scenario for Michigan's building trades unions. Not only would failure of Proposal 1 cost more than 13,000 road construction jobs per year, it might add another path to put the state's prevailing wage law at risk. State Republicans have already made prevailing wage repeal their top priority this year. Political observers say failure of Prop. 1 could prompt some GOP lawmakers' dealmaking with Gov. Snyder. It would come in the form of: if the governor agrees to repeal prevailing wage, then Republican lawmakers will agree to vote for a legislative road repair package.
“If Proposal 1 fails at the ballot box on May 5, then I would expect to see a prevailing wage repeal finding its way to the governor's desk," said Inside Michigan Politics Founder Bill Ballenger to Michigan Capitol Confidential. "Would he sign it? Possibly, if he feels he hasn't gotten the cooperation from organized labor on Proposal 1 that he expected, or if he's decided that repealing the prevailing wage wouldn't harm his efforts to boost job opportunities for the skilled trades.”
Snyder and/or his spokespersons have promised to veto prevailing wage repeal. But like his change in position when he signed the right-to-work bill, there's no guarantee that the governor - whose top priority is road repairs - wouldn't do an about-face and support prevailing wage repeal if Prop. 1 is defeated.
At a Feb. 19 meeting between state labor leaders and proponents of "Safe Roads Yes!" - the group pushing for passage of Proposal 1 - the undercurrent was obvious. "One point was made clear in the session," MIRS News Service reported, "and unions reportedly understood that it might be to their benefit to work with the governor on this issue as he might be their last line of defense should the conservative GOP legislature lob some additional 'anti-union' legislation on the governor's desk after the May 5 vote.
"Conservative legislators have repeatedly suggested passing a prevailing wage repeal as a way to squeeze savings out of the state budget for roads."
As we have reported, the first three pieces of legislation introduced in January in both the GOP-led House and Senate in Michigan involved repealing the Prevailing Wage act of 1965 in its entirely, or for school construction only. Repeal of the law would be an historic game-changer for the construction industry in Michigan, with studies showing it would bring lower wages, poorer working training and less-safe jobs.
The main argument against prevailing wage used by GOP lawmakers is that the law inflates construction costs by 20 percent - a number easily debunked by several academic studies which found no savings in states where prevailing wage laws were repealed. Labor lobbyists in Lansing have suggested that leading Republican lawmakers would wait until after the May 5 special election to pursue repeal legislatively, and that appears to be what's happening.
The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council is strongly supportive of Proposal 1, said the council Secretary Treasurer Patrick Devlin.
"At this point, we can't control what's going to happen in the Legislature, but we can do our best to encourage our members and their families to go to the polls on May 5 and support Proposal 1," Devlin said. "Is it a perfect ballot proposal? No. But it will finally put forth some serious money toward fixing our roads, and it will permanently put thousands of our members to work. Both are long overdue."