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Petitions turned in to repeal Michigan prevailing wage law

By David Eggert/Associated Press • Nov 5, 2017 at 4:00 PM

LANSING — A group turned in more than 380,000 signatures Friday for veto-proof legislation to repeal Michigan's 52-year-old law that requires higher "prevailing" wages to be paid on state-financed construction work.

If state election officials certify that roughly 252,000 are valid, the bill will go to the Republican-controlled Legislature, whose leaders support it despite GOP Gov. Rick Snyder's backing of the existing law. Legislators would have a 40-day window to vote or else the measure would receive a public vote in November 2018.

Snyder, who has opposed identical bills introduced in the Legislature, could not veto the initiated legislation.

"We are confident state lawmakers will do what is best for Michigan taxpayers and eliminate this costly carve-out," said Jeff Wiggins, who heads the anti-prevailing wage ballot committee Protecting Michigan Taxpayers and its primary donor, the nonunion construction trade group Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan. "There is no sound reason to overcharge taxpayers on building and construction projects."

The 1965 law requires paying the local wage and benefit rate — usually union scale — on state-financed construction projects such as building schools. Conservatives say the law is outdated, inflates costs and makes it harder for nonunion contractors to compete by making lower bids.

But defenders, including Democrats and some Republicans, say it prevents governments from awarding contracts solely based on which bidders pay their workers less. Snyder has complained that repealing the law would hamper efforts to bolster unfilled blue-collar jobs, while unions say cost cutting on public jobs will squeeze their apprenticeship training programs that are much superior to those offered by nonunion construction groups.

"Why would we lower wages when we need people to join the skilled trades?" said Mike Jackson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights.

The law's supporters urged legislators to let voters decide the issue.

"If the prevailing wage is repealed, it would literally take food off the tables and money out of the pockets of working men and women in Michigan, and out of the Michigan economy," said Lance Binoniemi, vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, a group of union and nonunion construction companies.

Conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity, the Michigan Freedom Fund and the National Federation of Independent Business said they expect legislators to act.

"Lawmakers need to step up now and show leadership and courage in addressing this protectionist labor union sacred cow that is cheating taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars every year," said NFIB state director Charlie Owens.

As of Oct. 20, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers had raised $1.3 million this year and spent $1.2 million — almost entirely for paid signature circulators. Nearly $1.2 million in donations came from ABC Michigan.

The trade association was involved in a repeal push that faltered in 2015 due to a shoddy signature-gathering effort despite being well-financed.

Secretary of state spokesman Fred Woohams said it will take the Bureau of Elections an estimated 60 days to review the signatures. If the Board of State Canvassers certifies that enough have been gathered, the bill will reach the Legislature as early as January.

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