LANSING – The reason Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 is still in place today is simple: the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan and their front group, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, hired a firm in 2015 that conducted an incredibly incompetent petition drive intended to repeal the law.
A lawsuit that emerged from that case was settled on Nov. 21 in Ingham County Circuit Court, the terms of which were not disclosed publicly or in court records. Eric Doster, an Okemos attorney representing Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, told the Detroit Free Press, “we’re pleased with the settlement.”
The target of Protect Michigan Taxpayers’ lawsuit, Nevada-based Silver Bullet, LLC., collected about 390,000 petition signatures during the effort and submitted the names to the state Board of Canvassers in September 2015.
But the signature-gathering effort was comically inept. Silver Bullet turned in an estimated 161,781 invalid names, with many signature-gatherers signing the petition multiple times, and nearly 50,000 duplicate signatures found. The court filing said 20 percent of the sampled signatures were made by people who were ineligible to vote.
Michigan Elections Director Christopher Thomas called the results of the petition drive “disturbing.” Thomas said the petition gathering company “clearly failed to put circulators in the field who complied” with statutory duties. ABC Michigan, through Protect Michigan Taxpayers, said in its court filing that it wanted reimbursement “as a result of Silver Bullet’s negligence, misconduct or material breach of the agreement.”
Under the Michigan Constitution, if a sufficient percentage of validated voters sign the petition (in 2015 that percentage translated into 252,523 signatures), then the prevailing wage repeal matter could be brought to the Legislature for a vote. In such a case the governor does not have a veto.
If the Legislature doesn’t adopt the petition language into law – and the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate were widely expected to adopt the repeal language – then the matter would go onto a ballot in a statewide vote.
The court documents filed by Protect Michigan Taxpayers said in addition to the $1.35 million it paid to Silver Bullet, “at least an additional $500,000 was spent in connection with the campaign,” and a “substantial portion of this investment in legal fees, printing costs, administrative costs and other out-of-pocket expenses will have to be duplicated as part of a new petition drive.” Reimbursement for that $500,000 wasn’t being sought in the lawsuit.
A second petition drive was started up earlier this year, but petered out in March. It was widely assumed that the prevailing wage repeal’s big money backers, the Devos family of Grand Rapids, turned off the money spigot to the ABC, ending the petition efforts.
In January 2015, the Republican-led state Legislature made prevailing wage repeal its top priority – but Gov. Rick Snyder’s threatened veto pushed repeal backers to try the disastrous petition drive.
Opponents of the state’s prevailing wage law maintain that repeal would save taxpayers money on public construction. Proponents, including building trades unions, major contractors and contractor associations, and numerous academic researchers have maintained that repeal does not benefit taxpayers, and results in lower wages, reduced resources for worker training, and even more workers fleeing the construction industry.