Prevailing Wage Repeal Initiative Approved For Signature Collecting
A citizens initiative that would do away with the state’s prevailing wage law is now primed for signature gathering. After gaining approval from the Board of State Canvassers (BSC) today, if the petitions garner the necessary number of valid signatures, the repeal would go before the Legislature for approval. If the House and Senate don’t act within 40 days, it will head to the ballot in November 2016. The effort is backed by Protecting Michigan Taxpayers and was submitted to the state just days ago (See “Citizens Initiative To Repeal Prevailing Wage Filed With SOS,” 5/21/15). The group is also drawing support from the Michigan Freedom Fund and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan (ABC). MIRS reported last week the goal is to collect the 252,523 signatures over the summer to put the measure before the Legislature in the fall. The signatures have to be collected in a 180-day window to be approved. When asked if the groups backing the repeal will pay for signature gatherers, ABC President Chris FISHER said they’re taking an “all of the above approach,” specifically mentioning volunteers and “firms that specialize in petition gathering.” The effort comes after the Senate passed a package paving the way for a prevailing wage repeal, which still faces opposition from Gov. Rick SNYDER (See “Prevailing Wage Repeal Passes Senate After Bitter Floor Debate,” 5/14/15). A citizens’ initiative, either approved by the Legislature or voters, would not need Snyder’s signature to become law. The BSC today signed off on the language 3-0, with Democratic chair Jeannette BRADSHAW passing on the vote. After the meeting, Bradshaw wouldn’t elaborate on why she abstained, other than to say it’s her personal right to do so. There was minimal discussion by the board, save for their preference to pass a version of the petition containing the full text of the law the groups are trying to repeal. Elections attorney Eric DOSTER represented Protecting Michigan Taxpayers before the BSC. The petition language, like the bills that passed the Senate, contain a $75,000 appropriation to “implement and to disseminate information regarding the repeal” of the 1965 prevailing wage law. Asked about that point, Fisher said the group wanted to put forth a petition that mirrored what the Senate passed. With an appropriation attached, a law cannot be subject to referendum. When asked what pitch will be made to voters when they’re asked to sign the petition, Fisher said it’s going to center around “protecting taxpayers.” He cited a study – later issued in a Protecting Michigan Taxpayers press release – that found prevailing wage regulations cost taxpayers more than $224 million each year on construction projects alone. The West Michigan Policy Forum also put out a brief statement today saying it voted in support of repealing the prevailing wage law. But not long after the BSC’s action, a group calling itself Michigan Prevails released poll data showing tepid voter interest in repealing prevailing wage. Michigan Prevails described itself as a group made up of “virtually every construction association in the state and major building trades organizations.” When read a statement about repealing prevailing wage, 49 percent said the law should be kept as is, while 29 percent said it should be repealed, with another 22 percent undecided or refusing to answer. When read pro and con statements about repealing the law, 53 percent then said the law should stay the same, and 33 percent said it should be repealed, with another 14 percent still undecided or refusing to answer. The group had EPIC-MRA do a telephone poll of 400 likely voters on May 19 and 20, with a margin of error of 4.9 percent. Legalizing Marijuana Initiative On Hold For Now Meanwhile, the group backing an initiative to make marijuana legal withdrew their petition before the BSC today, but indicated it would resubmit it in the near future. A representative with the Michigan Cannabis Coalition told the BSC the group needed to withdraw the petition today to make a few tweaks to make it “more perfect,” as she said today. Under the MCC language previously submitted to the state, those 21 and older could use marijuana as long as it’s not in a bus, school, prison, childcare facility or a public place. It allows for pot to be taxed, but didn’t set a rate (See “Legalized Pot Group Hires Signature Collectors,” 5/22/15).
27 May 2015
Decades In The Making, GOP Nears Turning Point On Prevailing Wage
Since HB 2101 was introduced in the House on Feb 9, 1965, Michigan Republicans have been disagreeing with one another over whether contractors on state-funded projects should have to pay so-called “prevailing wages.” The bill won the support of the majority of the Republican senators in 1965 on its way to Gov. George ROMNEY‘s desk. And the Republican governor signed it into law on July 15. But on and off since then, some in the Republican Party have spoken out against the policy or have even pushed to repeal it. For 50 years, the repeal effort has never been able to gain enough support to hold. That could change this year, as prevailing wage repeal is at the top of the agendas of both the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans. The Senate has already approved the repeal. There are some in Lansing who believe the change in overall attitude of Republicans on prevailing wage is a sign of the party turning more conservative and becoming less friendly toward labor organizations. Groups that are a part of the building and construction trades are the labor organizations that are most impacted by Michigan’s prevailing wage law. They’re also considered to be the labor organizations most friendly to Republicans. But that relationship is changing as Republican views change as well, says Mike JACKSON, executive secretary treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters. “We have had a lot of Republican legislators, a lot of Republican friends, who have supported prevailing wage,” Jackson said of the past in an interview. Jackson was the council’s political director during a period from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, in which he worked with Republican speakers of the House. “Back then you could actually sit down and have a discussion about the issue and you felt that people were at least listening,” Jackson said. “Today, you don’t get that same feeling.” For the last five years, Republicans have controlled both the Legislature and the governor’s office in Michigan. While they approved Right to Work, the prevailing wage law has remained in place. That’s thanks to some GOP officeholders who have blocked the repeal’s movement. One of them, former Senate Majority Leader Randy RICHARDVILLE (R-Monroe), was termed out of the Senate at the end of 2014. Gov. Rick SNYDER has also spoken out against repeal, but a citizens’ initiative is now taking shape that could gather enough petition signatures to get around Snyder if both the House and Senate approve the proposal. The Senate has already shown where it stands, approving repeal with a 22-15. So the key question could turn out to be whether enough of the 63 House Republicans would oppose the repeal in order to block it. Democrats are united against it. Rep. Ken GOIKE (R-Ray Twp.), who has run a trucking and excavating business for more than 30 years, is one of the House Republicans who opposes repeal. Asked if he thinks there are enough Republican opponents to block it in the House, Goike responded simply, “I don’t know.” ‘Strong Tendency Toward Socialism’ Even 50 years ago, when the Legislature first put the state’s prevailing wage law in place, there was heavy debate among Republicans about it. As it stands today, the law requires contractors on state-funded construction projects to pay wages that are based on local rates included in union agreements. The original bill passed the Senate 33-3 with 10 of the 13 Republicans in the chamber voting in favor of it. In the Democrat-controlled House, things were tighter with the majority of Republicans voting no. Four Republicans even had remarks recorded in House Journal, in which they slammed the bill as an overreach by the Legislature. “For the record, Mr. Speaker, I would state that in my opinion this bill violates basic precepts of our country,” Rep. Joseph Patrick SWALLOW, of Alpena, said in his remarks. “I believe it evidences a strong tendency toward socialism and for that reason I voted no.” Still, the bill made it through the Legislature with about a dozen Republican lawmakers supporting it. And then Romney, the Republican governor, signed the bill into law. It became Public Act 166 of 1965, which took effect in 1966. In the official press release about the bill’s signing, Romney’s team said the bill “prescribes for Michigan what is prescribed nationally” by the Davis-Bacon Act. “It will require contractors who are successful bidders on state projects and all subcontractors, to pay prevailing wages and fringe benefits of the area in which the work is to be done as set by the State Labor Commissioner.” The nearly 50-year-old law was not enforced for a brief period in the 1990s. In 1994, a U.S. district court ruled that the state’s prevailing wage law was preempted by a federal pension law. So the prevailing wage law wasn’t enforced again until 1997 when an appellate court ruled to put the law back in place. At the time, then-Gov. John ENGLER didn’t want to appeal the district court’s ruling. But then-Attorney General Frank KELLEY decided to continue the legal battle. As Jackson remembered today, Engler wanted to do away with the state’s prevailing wage but a group of Republican lawmakers, including Richardville, who was in the House at the time, helped block Engler’s push. “They hung with us,” Jackson said of those Republicans. Years later, Richardville became the Senate’s majority leader and continued to support the prevailing wage, according to Jackson. Last session with Richardville leading the Senate, former House Speaker Jase BOLGER and his caucus also wanted to get rid of the law. Bolger said he believes he would have had the votes to get the repeal through the House if there were a path to get it through the Senate and signed into law. “Legislators are willing to cast votes that matter,” Bolger said, “and hesitant to cast votes that don’t matter. And therefore, without a win plan . . . without a plan to make this law, there was hesitation, I understand that.” Bolger said prevailing wage repeal is good policy on multiple fronts, including improving the overall economic competitiveness of the state. Michigan is one of only six states with a prevailing wage law based on union contracts, he said. Plus, Bolger said, the law inflates school construction costs, taking dollars away from the classroom. “It saves taxpayer money,” Bolger said. “Prevailing wage mandates artificially inflate construction costs.” The Politics Of Prevailing Wage Michigan’s current House speaker and Senate majority leader both seem to agree with Bolger. Speaker Kevin COTTER (R-Mt. Pleasant) and Senate Majority Leader Arlan MEEKHOF (R-West Olive) have both spoken out for repeal and may be the lawmakers that ultimately make it happen. On Thursday, the committee Protecting Michigan Taxpayers announced that it hopes to collect some 253,000 petition signatures to send a citizens initiative to repeal the law to the Legislature. Lawmakers could then approve the initiative without needing Snyder’s signoff. Jackson said he believes this is the closest legislatively that Michigan has been to prevailing wage repeal. The Tea Party is pushing the GOP to the right and Republicans continue to look to weaken unions, Jackson said. While there are some Republicans to whom the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters still contribute, there aren’t as many as there once were. “We didn’t change our opinions of working with the Republican legislators,” Jackson said. “They definitely changed their opinions when it comes to us.” Over the last three and half years, the council’s PAC has given about $906,000 to state-level Democratic candidates and groups, and $67,225 to state-level Republicans. The PAC gives to candidates based on their stances on issues, not their party affiliation, Jackson said. In 2013, the PAC even wrote a $250 check to Cotter. The contribution, Jackson said, was meant to be an “olive branch” to an up-and-coming Republican lawmaker. Now, Cotter could help push prevailing wage repeal through the Legislature. Jackson said if that happens, the state won’t realize the savings that some allege will occur and Michigan will put itself at a disadvantage nationally in attracting building trades workers. Likewise, Goike, who could be a key voice on the issue in the House, believes that lawmakers need to improve the prevailing wage law, not repeal it. Goike argued that from 1994-1997 when the law was unenforced, there weren’t actual savings on projects. “Why bother going down this avenue?” Goike asked. According to a variety of sources, a vote earlier this week in the House was considered a trial balloon for what a prevailing wage repeal vote could look like. That vote was on HB 4052, which would ban local policies on prevailing wage and on pay and sick-leave standards that go beyond current state standards. The House vote was close, 57-52. Goike was a yes on that bill but plans to be a no on prevailing wage repeal. As for another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Martin HOWRYLAK (R-Troy), was a no on HB 4052. He said he’s undecided on prevailing wage repeal. Howrylak said he’s trying to wade through all the data and plans to talk to both union and non-union businesses and groups about what the impact of repeal would be. “I’ll talk to people from all walks of life, different parties,” Howrylak said, “and I want to do what’s in the best interest of the state here.”
22 May 2015
Prevailing Wage Repeal Passes Senate After Bitter Floor Debate The Senate approved a three-bill package Thursday to repeal Michigan’s longstanding prevailing wage law over passionate pleas from the Democratic caucus and hesitation from a handful of Republicans. SB 0001, SB 0002 and SB 0003 — which collectively remove provisions in state statute that require government contracts to be based on wages decided in collectively bargained agreements — all passed 22-15 on the Senate floor. Repealing the law has been a priority of Senate Majority Leader Arlan MEEKHOF (R-West Olive) for years, who said the vote’s outcome Thursday made it a “historic day in Michigan.” But Gov. Rick SNYDER has said he doesn’t support the measure. “He didn’t ever intend to support Right to Work either,” Meekhof told reporters after session. “I’ve not talked to him directly about it — I’ve heard from his staff that he didn’t think it was the right thing. So we’re going to try to convince him it is.” The bills initially moved through the Senate’s Michigan Competitiveness Committee 4-1 Wednesday after roughly two hours of debate (See “Prevailing Wage Repeal On Senate Calendar For Thursday Vote,” 5/13/15). Both in committee and on the floor, Democrats put up as much of a fight as they could, with nearly all of its members outlining various reasons on the floor why repealing prevailing wage would be a grave error. “If it is the decision of this body to repeal our prevailing wage law, I can guarantee you, a few years down the road, somebody will be doing a case study on Michigan, and they will write the story that we have higher costs, more worker injuries, more worker deaths, and less quality construction,” said Sen. Rebekah WARREN (D-Ann Arbor). Joining the Democratic caucus in opposition were Sens. Tom CASPERSON (R-Escanaba), Dale ZORN (R-Ida), Mike NOFS (R-Battle Creek), Tory ROCCA (R-Sterling Heights) and Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike KOWALL (R-White Lake). Warren barely lost an amendment that would have removed a $75,000 appropriation for “disseminating information” to the public added to SB 0003 in committee. Meekhof argued the appropriation was necessary, but Democrats were quick to point out the addition would also shield the legislation from a citizen referendum. “I mean, the people already don’t trust us,” said Sen. Coleman YOUNG II (D-Detroit). “This just lets us know not only that we can’t be trusted, but we’re yellow-bellied, we’re jelly-spined, we’re lily-livered, we’re weaknoodled, and we’ve got a limp-wristed handshake to go along with it. “Why should they trust anything that we say at all when we don’t even have the courage to face the people who put us in here?” Republican Sens. Margaret O’BRIEN, Tonya SCHUITMAKER (R-Lawton), Ken HORN (R-Frankenmuth), Mike GREEN (R-Mayville), Goeff HANSEN (R-Hart), Casperson, Rocca and Nofs voted with the Democrats in support of removing the money from the legislation, but it wasn’t enough. The amendment went down, 18-19. Despite voting against the bill itself, Kowall and Zorn voted to keep the appropriation in the legislation. Although the prevailing wage debate technically isn’t connected to the issue of transportation funding, the specter of the next road plan hovers over the vote in the wake of Proposal 1’s failure. Some speculate the bills are back on the table as leverage to ensure interest groups involved in maintaining prevailing wage and Democratic lawmakers continue to be part of the road funding solution. According to several sources, Snyder reportedly promised not to sign prevailing wage repeal as part of Proposal 1 negotiations. Sen. Curtis HERTEL, Jr. (D-East Lansing) insinuated that passage of prevailing wage repeal could be a deal breaker for the Democratic caucus when it comes to road funding negotiations. “If we are going to start a road discussion on the backs of working men and women, don’t come to our side for votes, because it is dead on arrival with us,” Hertel said. Casperson, the only Republican to make a statement against the bill on the floor Thursday, said he has concerns with how much supposed savings of repealing prevailing wage will actually trickle back down to the taxpayers. “I don’t blame anybody, but it seems to me we’ve got a lot of hypocrisy floating around here,” he said. “We’ve got an opportunity here to really look through this thing and see if we’re doing the wrong thing.” The Michigan Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan (ABC), a longtime supporter of prevailing wage repeal, applauded the Senate’s move in a statement following the vote. “Michigan has been hamstrung by the prevailing wage mandate for five decades,” ABC President Chris FISHER said. “Our school districts, colleges and universities will especially benefit when costs are brought back in line with the private sector.” But Patrick “Shorty” GLEASON of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council said lawmakers supporting the bills “might have well just spit in the face of Michigan workers.” “Our state is already having a difficult time attracting and retaining skilled workers and these (bills) will only make that problem worse,” Gleason said in a statement. “Michigan’s building and construction workers work in hazardous conditions on critical infrastructure across the state. They deserve to make a fair wage that is reflective of their training and craftsmanship.”
08 May 2015