Editorial: Lawmakers must get wage laws right

The Detroit News
"Lawmakers should find a balance that respects the wishes of hundreds of thousands of citizens while also preserving Michigan’s economic resurgence."

When the Legislature returns at the end of this month for its lame duck session, it’s likely to tackle two ballot proposals lawmakers passed in September. Both the paid leave and minimum wage measures could have negative implications for the state’s business community and workers, so scaling back the laws before they take effect is the right priority.

Plus, after the first of the year, the GOP-controlled Legislature will have to work with Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer. So this is the best time to amend the laws, as was always the intention of Republican lawmakers. Of course, since these were citizen-initiated proposals, it is essential that Republicans not betray the voters’ intent.

In September, a coalition of business groups actively lobbied the Legislature to take on the citizen-led mandated paid leave and hiked minimum wage proposals, even though members strongly believed against them and had fought them before the ballot language was approved.

But the business leaders understood the proposals had a strong chance of passing if they went before voters statewide in the general election. And once passed by voters, it’s much harder for legislators to step in and make changes. Alterations to voter-initiated laws require a three-fourths vote in both chambers of the Legislature.

So by passing the laws, outgoing lawmakers gave themselves the right to tinker with them, as they do with any other law.

The One Fair Wage law raises Michigan’s $9.25-an-hour minimum in increments to $12, and phases out the $3.52 minimum wage for tipped workers; the MI Time to Care law requires Michigan businesses to offer paid sick leave to employees.

The state Senate is already working on a few bills that would amend the laws. Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has offered some changes to the paid leave provision. And GOP Sen. Dave Hildenbrand of Lowell introduced a bill that would keep the lower wage for tipped restaurant workers.

These changes probably don’t go far enough to satisfy the business community’s concerns -- nor far enough to prevent burdensome effects on how businesses operate around the state. The paid leave law could have the most devastating impact, says James Hohman, fiscal policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He says the majority of businesses already offer some form of paid leave but that the cost of the new law would be at least $2.3 billion in extra employee benefits for employers.

“Paid leave is much more impactful,” says Hohman. “It’s a huge mandate.”

So far the House doesn’t have anything in the works, at least not officially, says Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt. But Leonard plans to take a look at what the Senate is proposing.

And Gov. Rick Snyder is waiting to see what lawmakers send him at the end of the year, and he hasn’t committed to what he’d like to see, according to spokesman Ari Adler.

Some are pushing lawmakers to repeal the mandates altogether, and say they would be acting within their constitutional authority to do so.

That may be accurate — and a tempting proposition — but lawmakers should strive to find a balance that respects the wishes of hundreds of thousands of citizens who signed the petitions while also working to preserve a climate that has enabled Michigan’s economic resurgence.