The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 27, 2017

Prevailing wage repeal petition in the home stretch

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

"Protect Michigan Taxpayers," the dubiously named group collecting signatures to repeal the state's prevailing wage law, is likely winding down its 2017 petition effort.

State law gives the group 180 days to collect about 252,000 signatures to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965. The meter started running on May 25, when signatures were first collected, which would place the end date at Nov. 21.

But Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, a front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors- Michigan, is expected to deliver the pages of signed sheets for approval to the Michigan Board of Canvassers well before Nov. 21 - and likely before the end of October. 

"The word I'm hearing is that they will present the signatures to the Board of Canvassers this week or next," said Steve Claywell, president of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, on Oct. 17. 

According to John Pirrich, an attorney representing the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council on this matter, an early submittal of the signatures would put Protecting Michigan Taxpayers within the state's 60-day window to allow the Board of Canvassers to certify the names before the end of the year. Assuming that the signatures are approved - and there's little doubt that the PMT group will submit tens of thousands of names more than the minimum as a cushion against duplicates, unregistered voters and fake names - the question of prevailing wage repeal will then be ready for consideration by the state Legislature on the first day of its session in January 2018.

Then, Pirich said, "lo and behold, what happens, the second Wednesday of January the Legislature comes back into session. There's no question what will happen in the Senate. If they get the petitions certified, the Senate (GOP) will vote for it unanimously. The real fight is going to be in the House. We need about 10 members of the House (GOP) to say no we won't adopt this."

Both houses of the state Legislature are controlled by Republicans, who enjoy strong majorities. They have not fully pursued prevailing wage repeal legislatively because Gov. Rick Snyder has pledged he would veto such a bill - Snyder has declared that construction hiring is difficult enough without lowering wages. 

But the state Constitution does allow for petition drives to initiate legislation, and if this one is successful and is approved by a majority of the Legislature early next year, the governor would have no veto power. 

Claywell said the need to swing the 10 or so state GOP House members to decline to support prevailing wage repeal is an uphill battle that hasn't changed much over the past couple of months. In the event that enough Republican House members can be convinced to vote no, or simply decline to vote on prevailing wage repeal, the issue, by law, then goes to a statewide ballot question in November 2018. "We'll do fine if we get this to the ballot, I'm very confident about that," Pirich said.

A final option for the building trades would be to almost immediately start up a counter petition drive to revive the prevailing wage law. But there are built-in disadvantages. The 180-day window to get signatures to put the issue on the November 2018 ballot would need to be early in the year, during cold-weather months, when people are indoors and harder to approach to sign. The cost would be substantial, well in excess of $1 million, similar to what the ABC/Protect Michigan Taxpayers is paying. 

"Unfortunately, the timing of all this puts us in a position of having to react to what they're going to do, but that's the situation we're faced with," Claywell said. 

Statewide polling from 2015 indicated fewer than one third of Michigan residents approved repeal of prevailing wage, but this Legislature is not likely to be swayed by public opinion surveys.