Appeals Court orders minimum wage proposal on Michigan ballot

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Michigan Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday ordered the state to “take all necessary measures" to place a proposed minimum wage increase on the November ballot.

Fast food workers rally for a minimum wage hike in April 2015 at a McDonald’s in downtown Detroit.

In a 2-1 decision that could be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, the three-judge panel dismissed a lawsuit brought by a business group that sought to kill the $12-per-hour wage measure, arguing the petition sidestepped the state Constitution and improperly capitalized words. 

Judges Stephen Borrello and Jane Beckering ruled the proposal does not violate any constitutional requirements and concluded that challenges to the petition form should not preclude certification by the Board of State Canvassers.

Michigan Opportunity, the group opposing the minimum wage ballot proposal, was disappointed with the ruling and is considering its next step, including appeal, said spokesman Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant Association. 

“While we respect the diligence taken by the Court of Appeals panel, we still firmly believe that the Michigan One Fair Wage petition is misleading and lacks the transparency required by the Michigan Constitution, rendering it ineligible for the ballot,” Winslow said in a statement.

The ballot proposal would raise Michigan’s $9.25 minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2019, $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021 and $12 in 2022. Any future increases after 2022 would be tied to inflation. It would also phase out by 2024 the lower wage rate for restaurant servers and other employees who receive tips.

Mark Brewer, an attorney for the One Fair Wage committee and former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, called the decision a victory for the “hundreds of thousands of people who signed the petition” and hopes opponents do not appeal. 

“It’s a strong decision, and it’s correct,” he said of Wednesday’s ruling. “Let the voters of Michigan weigh in on this issue. Let democracy have a voice rather than trying to stop it in court.”

If certified for the ballot, the measure would join others seeking to create an independent redistricting commission, legalize recreational marijuana and require that business provide employees with paid sick leave. Another proposal awaiting certification would allow for no-reason absentee voting and other election changes.

All of the proposed ballot measures are considered hot-button issues for liberal-leaning voters that might help attract more Democratic voters to the polls in November. Michigan Democrats are seeking to win the offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state as well as control of the state House after eight years of total Republican control of state government.

The Senate has such a lopsided GOP advantage that Democrats aren't considered to have a shot of winning control there.

The One Fair Wage ballot committee submitted an estimated 283,544 valid signatures to the state in May. The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 in late July while debating whether to certify the signatures for the minimum wage petition.

Opponents argued the measure constituted an amendment to existing minimum wage laws, which would require petitioners to print in full the areas of law that would be affected by the proposal instead of just referencing the title of the law.

In dismissing the lawsuit, the appeals court panel ordered the Michigan Secretary of State, Board of State Canvassers and Director of Elections Sally Williams to work to get the proposal on the general election ballot. 

Judge Michael Riordan disagreed with the majority order to place the measure on the ballot because of petition signers who checked both "township" and "city" boxes on some forms.

A "safe harbor" provision in state law "does not protect such errors, and extending it to do so is tantamount to adding language to the statute that the Legislature saw fit to leave out," he wrote in a dissent.