The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 12, 2015

Prevailing wage law in hands of petitioners

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 is in dire risk of repeal this year in the state Legislature - but it likely won't happen in the conventional manner.

The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 22-15 on May 15 to approve a three-bill prevailing wage repeal package. The legislation then went over to the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) on May 28 announced that repeal efforts would be shelved, for now, in favor of waiting for a petition drive to be completed.  It appears as if Republican lawmakers have little faith in Gov. Rick Snyder signing a repeal bill if it gets to his desk.

“I don’t see it doing anything productive to send a bill to the governor’s desk just for the sake of saying we did,” Cotter told The Detroit News. “My goal is to ultimately repeal prevailing wage.” And he told MLive that repeal is "a top priority, and I believe we're going to get it done one way or the other." With Snyder's lack of support for the measure, he said a "traditional legislative path is not an option."

The petition method is a little-used tool provided by the state Constitution that allows citizens to gather signatures of registered voters in order to bring an issue to the state Legislature for a vote. (While Snyder has said he doesn't support prevailing wage repeal, such a petition drive relies only on the Legislature and circumvents any veto power the governor might have). In this case, the language of a petition - brought by a group affiliated with the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors called Protecting Michigan Taxpayers - was approved by the state Board of Canvassers on May 26.

Now the group has 180 days to collect more than 250,000 valid voter signatures, which, if approved, would allow the prevailing wage issue to be placed on the November 2016 ballot. But before that happens, the state Constitution allows the Legislature to adopt the petition language into law, without any changes. To pound more nails into the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act's coffin, the petition language follows the same blueprint of Michigan's right-to-work law, as it would allocate $75,000 from the state's General Fund to pay for implementation of the law. State law says that allocating funding to a bill makes the measure immune to repeal via public referendum.

But wait, there's more. The signature-gathering effort is backed by the Michigan Freedom Fund, the same deep-pocketed group, which includes the Devos clan, that bankrolled efforts and strong-arm political tactics to make Michigan a right-to-work state in 2012. The money that they're able to throw at this effort virtually assures that an army of signature-gatherers can be hired to get the necessary names to advance the petition. The Inside Michigan Politics newsletter says "it typically takes more than $1 million to collect the 252,523 valid signatures required for a ballot measure," and a million bucks is chump change to the Devos family, or whatever group(s) will be funding the effort.

“We believe that Michigan workers deserve a raise, not a pay cut,” said House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, to The News. “It’s disappointing that right-wing groups like the Freedom Fund and House Republicans are so fixated of cutting the pay of hard-working Michiganders.”

The GOP holds a commanding 63-47 majority in the House. Although lobbying efforts have brought a handful of Republican lawmakers to pledge to vote against prevailing wage repeal, Greimel was not optimistic that enough GOP lawmakers could be flipped. "My guess is they'll do enough twisting of arms to get the votes they'll need," he said.