Prevailing wage repeal, pro-pot petitions clear hurdle

Jonathan Oosting

Lansing — A group seeking to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage construction law submitted enough valid signatures to advance its measure to the state Legislature this year after failing to do so in 2015, according to elections staff.

A report released Monday shows the Bureau of Elections is recommending the Board of State Canvassers approve the petitions, which faced extra scrutiny after an initial review revealed a significant — but not disqualifying — number of invalid signatures.

Elections staff is also recommending board approval of a measure seeking to legalize and commercialize recreational marijuana. Canvassers are set to meet Thursday morning at the Michigan Capitol.

If certified, both measures would head to lawmakers, who would have 40 days to approve the initiatives themselves or allow them to go to the statewide ballot in November for voters to decide.

Organizers expect the Republican-led Legislature to take up the prevailing wage repeal legislation, which would bypass a potential veto by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and House Speaker Tom Leonard both support repeal.

It’s not yet known what lawmakers might do with the pot proposal, but Republicans are considering options amid fears that a legalization ballot proposal could drive Democratic voter turnout in the fall.

Michigan’s 1965 prevailing wage law requires contractors to pay their workers union-rate wages and benefits on state-financed or -sponsored construction projects, including school and government buildings.

The repeal group, financed primarily by an association of contractors that does not use union laborers, argues the wage mandate inflates construction costs ultimately borne by taxpayers.

“Finally, the Legislature will be able to repeal this special-interest carve out, saving millions of tax dollars for hardworking Michigan families and creating jobs,” committee president Jeff Wiggins said in a statement. He dismissed opponent signature challenges as “desperate ‘Hail Mary’ attempts” to thwart the initiative.

An opposition group that includes labor groups and union-friendly contractors contested the signatures and launched a counter-petition drive in November. The coalition argues repeal would lower worker wages and limit training programs they fund.

Elections staff spent months reviewing the repeal group’s petitions after finding 165 invalid signatures in an initial sample of 535.

But after analyzing an additional 3,908 signatures, the Bureau of Elections now estimates the group submitted 268,403 valid signatures — nearly 16,000 more than the 252,523 needed for certification.

Election staff recommended approval despite a challenge to signatures from 295 separate petitions from circulators who listed non-residential buildings as their residential address, including a UPS store in California, a Super 8 Motel in Roseville and the Central United Methodist Church in Detroit.

Meekhof requested an opinion from Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose office said the Board of State Canvassers has the authority to seek criminal or civil charges against circulators who fail to list a proper residential address, but possible sanctions “do not include disqualifying the affected petition,” Schuette’s office said.

For the pot proposal, staff reviewed an initial sample of 500 signatures, finding 383 valid and 117 invalid, a mark high enough to trigger automatic recommendation. Staff estimates the group submitted 277,370 valid signatures, eclipsing the 252,523 required.

The Michigan Board of Canvassers will consider both petitions Thursday at 10 a.m.