Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger cast doubt Tuesday that GOP lawmakers would consider a compromise with backers of a proposed minimum wage increase to $9.50 an hour over a two-year period. (Chris Farina / The Detroit News)
Lansing— Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday there’s little chance they’d agree to any hike in Michigan’s $7.40-an-hour minimum wage, meaning voters may be asked to decide in November whether the rate should be increased 28 percent.
House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville cast doubt GOP lawmakers would consider a compromise with backers of a proposed minimum wage increase to $9.50 an hour over a two-year period. The state’s minimum wage rate for tipped workers would rise 85 cents a year until it hit the $9.50 mark under the ballot proposal whose language still requires approval of the Board of State Canvassers.
“I’d never close the door to any conversation ... but this is about as close as it gets,” said Bolger, R-Marshall, adding the minimum wage proposal looks like an effort to bring Democrats to the polls in November.
“The motivation to put this on the ballot is because (Democrats) can’t get excited about their gubernatorial candidate,” Bolger said.
Former state lawmaker and ex-U.S. Congressman Mark Schauer is the likely Democratic challenger to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
Snyder opened his re-election campaign with a two-day series of appearances last week, touting himself as the author of a state turnaround. Schauer, who was campaigning in the Upper Peninsula this week, has accused Snyder of abandoning middle-class Michiganians and promised to boost the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour over three years if elected.
Richardville, R-Monroe, said he believes businesses, not government, should decide how much their employees are paid. “I might hold a committee meeting to speak against (a minimum wage increase),” he added.
The push for a substantial hike in Michigan’s minimum wage was launched last weekend by a coalition of labor, religious and civil rights groups.
On Monday, the coalition submitted petition language for its $9.50-an-hour minimum wage proposition to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
The group wants to clear its petition language through the Board of State Canvassers before starting a drive to collect voters’ signatures. The canvassers haven’t scheduled a meeting yet.
Leaders of the coalition said they expect the issue to end up as a ballot proposition, but they’re open to discussions with lawmakers on a compromise minimum wage increase.
They aim to collect at least 258,088 valid registered voter signatures by May 28 under the initiated-law provisions of Michigan’s constitution. If they are successful, lawmakers can act on the proposal or let it go before voters in November.
If approved, the new minimum wage automatically would be adjusted annually based on increases in the Consumer Price Index.
Republicans argue minimum wage hikes lead to a reduction in jobs as businesses adjust to the added cost. “You have just so much money to pay people,” Richardville said.
Bolger said lawmakers, instead, “need to help businesses in Michigan be places where people can get more jobs and find better careers” by avoiding costly mandates.
Frank Houston, executive director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, characterized the minimum wage proposal as an effort “to make sure we keep people out of poverty and increase the motivation to work.”
The boost would give families of three “a fighting chance to get above the poverty line,” said Houston, whose nonprofit workers’ rights group is part of the coalition collecting petition signatures.
Houston, also Oakland County’s Democratic leader, said his organization is prepared to contribute $300,000 to the drive.
The head of the Michigan Restaurant Association voiced strong opposition to the proposal in a statement released Tuesday, calling it “the wrong plan at the wrong time for Michigan’s fragile economy.”
“Make no mistake, this government-mandated wage hike that completely eliminates the tipped minimum wage will not only increase menu prices and cost Michigan jobs — it will put many restaurants out of business,” said association President and CEO Brian DeBano.