Anti-prevailing wage group starts over on ballot issue

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A group pushing for a citizen-initiated repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage law conceded Friday the petitions it submitted are short of the number of valid signatures necessary to prompt legislative action or a ballot initiative.

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers said it has asked the Board of State Canvassers not to certify petitions submitted Sept. 14 and pledged to try again. The group said it filed language with the elections board for new petitions it plans to circulate in another drive.

Its announcement confirmed findings made public Monday by a coalition of contractors and unions trying to prevent a repeal of the law, which essentially mandates union-scale wages on publicly funded construction projects.

The petitions submitted by Protecting Michigan Taxpayers fall “woefully short” of the 352,253 signatures necessary to put the proposal before lawmakers, the contractor-union group Protect Michigan Jobs had charged. The process was conducted by paid signature collectors.

Election law specialist John Pirich said when more than 49,000 invalid duplicate signatures are added to 117,391 disallowed in preliminary analysis by the state elections bureau, the petitions fall at least 25,000 signatures short of the required number.

Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams confirmed elections officials received Protecting Michigan Taxpayers’ request but said the Board of State Canvassers is required to complete its review.

“(D)espite what the group has requested, the petition may not be withdrawn,” he said. “The Board of State Canvassers will still consider approving or rejecting the petitions regardless of whether the group asks that they be withdrawn.

They can circulate the same petition form, but they can’t reuse signatures that were turned in,” he added.

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, whose required state campaign finance report showed it had raised $1.5 million for the petition drive, said its decision not to seek certification of its petitions came after careful analysis.

The group said independent analysis showed that duplicate signatures — those of voters who may have mistakenly signed the petition more than once — were incorrectly submitted to the Bureau of Elections.

“Out of respect for the integrity of the petition process, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers has filed new petition language and looks forward to collecting signatures again to ensure voters’ voices will be heard,” said organization vice president Chris Fisher.

“Repealing this costly and wasteful government regulation is too important not to finish the fight,” added Fisher, who also president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan.

Those seeking an end to the prevailing wage requirement argue there would be millions of dollars in savings on taxpayer funded projects such as roads and schools if contractors didn’t have to pay union-scale wages. Opponents say those claims are based on faulty research and repealing the prevailing wage would let shoddy contractors undercut Michigan’s quality construction firms.

A representative of Protect Michigan Jobs blasted the plan to continue trying to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage.

Protect Michigan Jobs “is taking orders now from the millionaires and billionaires of the far right Michigan Freedom Fund, who have as their goal fostering a race to the bottom in the pay of working men and women in state,” said spokesman Dave Waymire.

The Michigan Freedom Fund, associated with the DeVos family of Grand Rapids, contributed more than $800,000 of the $1.5 million collected for the ill-fated petition drive, according to state records.

The contractor-union coalition, which had asked the elections bureau to reject the petitions as invalid, also wants the attorney general to investigate the tactics used to collect signatures.

“The billionaires’ campaign tricked thousands of people into signing petitions by claiming the petitions were about fixing the roads, or funding schools, or reforming the Legislature,” Waymire said. “Now they say they’re going to start over -- but a lot of people are onto them.”

Michigan’s constitution permits citizens to initiate laws by turning in petitions with the required number of valid signatures from registered voters. Once the petitions have been certified, lawmakers have 40 days to pass the proposed law or allow it to become a ballot proposition in the next general election.

Fisher told The Detroit News the group will start recirculating petitions shortly after the Board of Canvassers OKs the new language submitted Friday. Protecting Michigan Taxpayers must collect the signatures within a 180-day period and has to turn them in by June 1.

The last effort took about three months, he said.

Fisher has said his organization hopes for action from the Republican-dominated Legislature, rather than a ballot initiative. Legislative approval of a citizen-initiated repeal wouldn’t be subject to a veto from Gov. Rick Snyder, who has said he has no interest in getting rid of the prevailing wage law.