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Lansing — Petitions from a group seeking the repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage law are “woefully short” of the 352,253 signatures necessary to put the proposal before lawmakers or on the ballot, a coalition of contractors and unions said Monday.

The finding is from an analysis by a team headed by election law specialist John Pirich, members of Protect Michigan Jobs said. Pirich said when more than 49,000 invalid duplicate signatures are added to 117,391 disallowed by the state elections bureau, the petitions turned in by the repeal group should fall at least 25,000 short of the required number.

“This is definitely a new low,” Pirich said.

The elections bureau, part of the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, won’t complete its petition review until next week and wouldn’t confirm Pirich’s claims on Monday. Spokesman Fred Woodhams said the bureau had just received filings from Protect Michigan Jobs.

Pirich said the group is asking the elections bureau to reject the petitions as invalid and requesting an attorney general’s investigation of the tactics used to collect signatures. The signatures were collected by paid circulators working for an out-of-state contractor hired by the anti-prevailing wage group.

“That more than 40 percent of the signatures filed are unequivocally invalid can lead to no other conclusion but that the entire signature gathering process was, at best, careless and, at worst, fraudulent, thereby tainting the entire initiative process in our state,” Protect Michigan Jobs’ challenge says. “The validity rate of the signatures submitted by Petitioners is the lowest percentage of any state level filing of an initiative or referendum petition in the history of such filings in Michigan.”

The prevailing wage repeal group, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, has in turn filed complaints against the construction-labor coalition alleging campaign finance violations. Woodhams confirmed that the secretary of state also is looking into those complaints.

Monday’s petition signature challenge drew an quick reaction from Protecting Michigan Taxpayers. Chris Fisher, head of the group, called it “a brazen attack on Michigan taxpayers and their rights.” Fisher is also president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan.

Prevailing wage laws usually require that construction firms pay union-scale wages on publicly funded projects such as school buildings and road repairs. Groups seeking the law’s elimination argue that it inflates the cost of construction projects.

Fisher’s group, which says it turned in more than 292,000 signatures, wants to prompt a taxpayer-initiated repeal of the prevailing wage law that would be enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Legislation passed through that process wouldn’t be subject to a veto from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who says he’s not in favor of repealing prevailing wage rules.

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers filed a challenge Monday seeking to rehabilitate signatures that the elections staff have determined after preliminary review to be invalid, Woodhams said. The bureau shares preliminary findings with affected parties to allow for challenges.

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers has raised more than $1.5 million for its effort to dump the prevailing wage, according to required campaign finance reports filed Monday. Of that, $805,000 came from the Michigan Freedom Fund, an organization associated with the DeVos family of Grand Rapids.

Michigan’s constitution provides for a petition process that gives voters direct access to lawmaking, which is used with growing frequency by advocacy groups such as Protecting Michigan Taxpayers. If a group turns in enough signatures, the Legislature has 40 days to approve the requested law or, by failing to act, allow it to become a ballot proposal in the next statewide general election.

gheinlein@detroitnews.com

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