Cotter: Let business group seek prevailing wage repeal
Mackinac Island — House Speaker Kevin Cotter wants to let a business group pursue an initiated law repealing Michigan’s prevailing wage instead of sending Gov. Rick Snyder legislation he may veto.
“I don’t see it doing anything productive to send a bill to the governor’s desk just for the sake of saying we did,” Cotter said Thursday in an interview at the Mackinac Policy Conference. “My goal is to ultimately repeal prevailing wage.”
Snyder has said he opposes repealing the prevailing wage laws for construction of public schools and government buildings, but has stopped short of saying he would veto a bill.
The state’s prevailing wage law requires construction firms doing public projects to pay the prevailing or union wage, which tends to be the highest.
The Board of State Canvassers on Tuesday approved petitions seeking a repeal of the union wage law presented by a group called Protecting Michigan Taxpayers.
The group, affiliated with the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, needs to collect more than 250,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot.
If certified for the ballot, the state Constitution allows the Legislature to adopt the law without any changes, avoiding a costly ballot campaign for the group.
“If that comes to us, I look forward to holding a vote,” said Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant.
Earlier this month, the Senate quickly passed a prevailing wage repeal on a 22-15 vote. The speaker wants to wait to see whether Protecting Michigan Taxpayers can gather the required voter signatures.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said he encouraged prevailing wage opponents to pursue an initiated law.
“I think the citizens are going to weigh in on this, and we’ll see where we go from there,” Meekhof said in an interview.
A voter-initiated law, Cotter said, “provides another path” to end the prevailing wage law.
“I don’t see where it benefits anyone to play games and just send something to (Snyder) that’s ultimately vetoed,” Cotter said. “...We need to be able to work together on a lot of other issues.”
But Michigan’s unions plan to fight any petition or legislative effort to end the prevailing wage law.
“We will be very successful at the end,” said Patrick “Shorty” Gleason, legislative director of the Michigan Building Trades Council.
“I don’t think people are going buy the theory that the lower you pay people, the more taxpayers are going to save money. Low-ball contractors will not be giving that back to the taxpayers. They will be putting it back in their pockets.”
House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, criticized Cotter’s strategy to bypass Snyder’s veto pen.
“We believe that Michigan workers deserve a raise, not a pay cut,” Greimel said in a separate interview. “It’s disappointing that right-wing groups like the Freedom Fund and House Republicans are so fixated of cutting the pay of hard-working Michiganders.”
The initiated-law approach is a similar legislative strategy Right to Life of Michigan took in 2013 after Snyder vetoed a bill that would have prohibited basic state-regulated health insurance plans from covering abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.
After Right to Life gathered enough voter signatures and qualified for the ballot, the Republican-controlled Legislature quickly adopted the law in December 2013, bypassing Snyder’s veto pen.
On Wednesday, Snyder reiterated his opposition to the legislation as he tries to build up skilled trades programs in the state to address a shortfall in construction workers, heavy equipment operators, electricians and plumbers.
“I’m not after prevailing wage as an issue today,” Snyder told reporters. “I think it would be a divisive issue, and I want to partner with everyone, including labor, on how we do the best skilled trades (training) in the country.”