July 24, 2014 at 11:46 pm

$10 minimum wage off Michigan ballot

Lansing — Michigan voters won’t see a $10.10-an-hour minimum wage proposal on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, the state’s election board decided Thursday after rejecting proponents’ petitions because they contained too many duplicate signatures.

The Board of State Canvassers, honoring an 11th-hour challenge from opponents, determined on a 3-1 vote that petitions submitted by Raise Michigan were thousands of signatures short of the 258,088 required.

That decision brought strong objections from representatives of the coalition, whose volunteers spent months collecting signatures from low-wage workers. They called Thursday’s protracted decision-making process unfair and said they may ask the courts to overturn it.

Minimum wage skirmishing kept the board in session for most of the day after it quickly voted to certify a second ballot proposition, calling for the continuation of Michigan wolf hunting.

Members haggled over the fairness of allowing petition challenges submitted only Wednesday — 12 days after a publicly announced July 11 deadline — and then took more than a two-hour recess to give state election staffers time to more closely examine the duplicate signatures.

Afterward, state elections Director Chris Thomas said the staff agreed that Raise Michigan had too few valid signatures. Opponents submitted a sampling that contained 48 duplicate signatures, he said, leading to a projection that the petitions were thousands short.

The board is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. Democrat Julie Matuzak objected to the late challenge and ultimately voted against rejecting the $10.10 ballot proposition.

The rest of the board agreed with a group called People Protecting Michigan Jobs that the petitions should be disqualified. Registered voters are allowed to sign petitions only once.

John Pirich, attorney for People Protecting Michigan Jobs, said the petitions are at least 4,000 signatures short, according to a validation formula used by elections officials. A sampling determines the number of valid and invalid signatures rather than a review of all of the more than 300,000 turned in.

Pirich said if the board ignored the duplicate signatures it would be ignoring election rules, “burying its head in the sand.”

“We believe there are many more (than 4,000) duplicates,” he said. “The board has a duty.”

Representatives of Raise Michigan said they will decide very soon whether to appeal the board’s decision. An appeal would go first to the Michigan Court of Claims, now a branch of the state’s Court of Appeals.

“The fix was in early,” contended Oakland County Democratic chairman Frank Houston speaking for Raise Michigan. “There’s an issue of fairness. It was clear they were looking to keep this off the ballot.”

People Protecting Michigan Jobs spokesman Justin Winslow later issued a statement calling the canvassers’ decision “a significant setback” to Houston’s employer, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United.

He claimed the Restaurant Opportunities Center is “a radical union front group out of New York that primarily financed the job-killing proposal.”

Winslow also is government affairs vice president for the Michigan Restaurant Association, which vehemently opposes the $10.10 proposal.

A second legal battle could ensue over a second contention of $10.10 minimum wage opponents: the ballot petitions were made moot when the Republican-led Legislature voted last May to boost the state’s $7.40-per-hour minimum wage in steps to $9.25 an hour by 2018.

At the time, lawmakers also repealed the state’s 1964 minimum wage statute, specifying it was replaced by the new one. That maneuver purposely was designed to negate Raise Michigan petitions, which call for amending the 1964 law in a way that would increase the minimum wage to $10.10.

The signature review was performed over objections from Raise Michigan attorney Mark Brewer because the challenges came nearly two weeks past the normal deadline.

Brewer maintained that entertaining late challenges through an “ad hoc” process violates petition circulators’ and signers’ rights.

“My client and the 300,000 people who signed the petitions deserve to have this on the ballot,” Brewer said.

Legislation raising Michigan’s minimum wage to $9.25 was given final passage May 27. Gov. Rick Snyder signed it the next day.

Part of the lawmakers’ reason for passing it was that the proposed ballot proposition also was to call for increasing to $10.10 the state’s $2.65-an-hour tipped minimum wage for food servers and bartenders who rely mostly on gratuities.

Leaders of the restaurant industry said requiring tipped workers to be paid $10.10 an hour would drive many eateries out of business. The legislation Snyder signed will boost the state’s tipped minimum wage gradually to $3.51 an hour by 2018.

The law also ties the minimum wage to inflation, so that it will continue to gradually increase after 2018.

While $9.25 brings Michigan’s rate well above the federal rate of $7.25 per hour, state lawmakers didn’t go as far as their counterparts in some other states.

Vermont’s minimum wage will rise to $10.50 by 2018. Maryland’s will go to $10.10 by the same year. Lawmakers in Minnesota, Delaware, West Virginia, Connecticut and Hawaii also approved minimum wage increases.

Meanwhile, the pro-wolf hunting proposition could both spur legislative action and spark a lawsuit.

Under state law, the Legislature has 40 days to decide whether to pass a voter-initiated proposition into law or let it go to a state-wide vote.

The pro-hunting ballot effort was put together by Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, who say state natural resources officials and game biologists should decide which animals are designated as game for hunting. Groups behind the proposition include Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

Sen. Tom Casperson, of Escanaba, is among majority Republicans who want to adopt the proposition through legislation, possibly next month. That would invalidate or cloud the status of two other petition-initiated proposals — already scheduled for a vote — seeking to ban wolf hunting.

Wolf hunt opponents last year collected enough signatures to mandate a referendum on 2012 legislation signed by Snyder allowing wolf hunting. A referendum gives voters a chance to overturn a law passed by the Legislature.

Casperson then led passage of a 2013 law, signed by Snyder, that transfers state game law authority from the Legislature to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission. The commission, made up of gubernatorial appointees, afterward approved the first state wolf hunt in 75 years.

Keep Wolves Protected this spring turned in a second batch of petitions calling for a vote to overturn the 2013 law under which the wolf hunt was held.

Both of the anti-wolf hunting propositions are slated to be on Nov. 4 general election ballots throughout the state. But it may take a court case to determine if they’re meaningful or moot.

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