Court clears way for initiative to repeal wage law
By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING — The Michigan Court of Appeals on Friday ordered the elections board to certify a ballot initiative that would repeal the state’s law requiring higher wages on state-financed construction projects, rejecting arguments that circulators gave incorrect addresses for their residences.
In a 3-0 ruling, the judges directed the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers to approve the petition because the elections bureau projected that more than enough valid signatures — 268,000 — had been submitted. The board had deadlocked 2-2 more than two weeks ago, when Democrats voted “no” after the opposition raised objections that 18 paid circulators provided fraudulent addresses.
The court said the remedies for a circulator not giving a valid address or inserting a fraudulent one do not include striking otherwise valid voter signatures. Valid signatures can only be eliminated when a circulator fails to sign and date a petition sheet or if voters do not sign, date or provide their own addresses, wrote Judges Elizabeth Gleicher, Peter O’Connell and Jonathan Tukel.
Once the initiated legislation is certified, possibly as soon as next week, the GOP-led Legislature will have 40 days to pass it — bypassing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder — or the bill will go to a statewide vote in November.
Jeff Wiggins, president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers — a ballot committee of nonunion contractors backing the anti-prevailing wage measure — credited the appeals court for upholding the “rights of nearly 400,000 Michigan citizens looking to propose commonsense legislation to their elected officials that would repeal the special-interest carveout that is Michigan’s prevailing wage law.”
Protect Michigan Jobs, a ballot committee opposing the initiative, vowed a quick appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.
“This decision calls into question the entire initiative process. You will no longer need honest circulators because this ruling allows people to lie about the basic fundamentals of the signature collection process,” said Andrea Hansen, the group’s attorney.
After the opinion was released, the elections board scheduled a meeting for Tuesday to again consider the measure.
The 1965 prevailing wage law requires paying the local wage and benefit rate — usually union scale — on state-financed projects such as public schools.
Conservatives say the law is outdated, inflates costs and makes it harder for nonunion contractors to compete by making lower bids.
The law’s defenders, including union contractors and Democrats, say it helps workers and prevents governments from awarding contracts solely based on which bidders pay their workers less.
Snyder has complained that abolishing the law would hamper efforts to bolster unfilled blue-collar jobs.
GOP legislative leaders want to enact the initiative into law with House and Senate votes, while opponents have been urging lawmakers to let the public decide if the bill is certified.