Skip to content


Blog Posts

For The Week Of June 3, 2018 Through June 9, 2018

Could Prevailing Wage Still Be A Factor On The Ballot

By John Lindstrom
Posted: June 7, 2018 12:52 PM

An end to Michigan’s prevailing wage law has come. The initiated petition proposal will not appear on the ballot, at least formally. But could it still be a major factor on the ballot?

Yes, possibly. And if so, it may have something that will formally appear on the ballot to pay some thanks to: the recreational marijuana proposal.

No, we’re not smoking weed here when we pose this. We are trying to consider how opponents of the prevailing wage repeal, particularly unions and Democrats, might use this as a strategy to help drive turnout. Conversely, we are also trying to speculate how supporters, primarily business and Republicans, would counter such a move.

We all know that Michigan’s Constitution directs that the Legislature has 40 days to enact an initiated proposal. If it does not do so, the proposal then goes to the voters. In the last week we, of course, saw the Legislature take both these courses, by refusing to act on the marijuana proposal and sending it to the ballot in November but adopting the repeal of the prevailing wage provision.

Under Article II, Section 9 of the Constitution no initiative proposal adopted by the voters, “shall be amended or repealed, except by …three-fourths of the members elected to and serving in each house of the Legislature.” Should the marijuana proposal be approved by the voters this November, and you get 83 members of the House and 29 members of the Senate together – not always an easy task – the Legislature could repeal the recreational marijuana act despite the voters’ approval.

But what of the prevailing wage repeal? What would it take to repeal the repeal? And this is where the earlier discussion on the marijuana proposal plays its critical role.

Prior to lawmakers debating in the last weeks about whether they would enact the marijuana proposal, no one much thought about what happens to such an act when approved by the Legislature. Those initiated acts enacted by the Legislature were considered sacrosanct in a way. The voters wanted them, therefore they were to be touched only when absolutely necessary and then as lightly as possible.

But if the new political age has taught us anything it is that nothing is sacrosanct and accomplishing ends by – as the phrase goes – any means necessary has an attraction as well as a utility.

When lawmakers questioned if they should adopt the marijuana initiated proposal so they could amend or repeal it by a majority of those elected and serving, the old 56 and 20 count instead of 83 and 29, it struck open Pandora’s box, popped the genie out of the bottle and squeezed out all the toothpaste.

It gave Democrats and union members a new issue to press on supporters: elect a Democratic Legislature, elect a Democratic governor, and the prevailing wage repeal can be repealed. The voters could indirectly bring back prevailing wage, along with a number of other issues for which they condemn Republicans. It may be enough of an argument to get more blue-collar voters, who have been tending more Republican but who, like most voters, tend to vote what they see as their personal interest, out to the polls.

Recall that in 2014, Governor Rick Snyder saw his re-election majority plummet compared to his massive 2010 victory. In 2010 Mr. Snyder walloped then Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero by 590,301 votes. But by 2014, with Democrats running on a steady drumbeat of issues like right-to-work, the re-enactment of the emergency manager law after voters had repealed a similar measure, funding for K-12 schools and the privatization of prison food service, Mr. Snyder’s margin of victory over former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer was 128,342 votes, a drop of 460,000.

And from a Democratic electoral strategy standpoint, the repeal of prevailing wage has one big advantage: it happened five months before the November election. Right-to-work and the emergency manager re-enactment had occurred nearly two years before and the passion over the issues had waned. Could this be part of a greater effort to get voters riled enough that they could push the Legislature in Democratic hands? It’s a big stretch, of course. The Senate has been in GOP hands for almost 34 years, and the House has been Republican for eight years. Republicans have large majorities in both chambers, especially the Senate, where Democrats are at their lowest percentage of the body in 64 years.

It will be tough, especially in the Senate, to work that change. There’s no precedent in modern Michigan politics for one party flipping nine Senate seats in a single election, which is the task Democrats face.

Plus, Democrats will have to win over enough voters in more rural and conservative districts to see a change. This is where Republicans can work a counter-strategy, that prevailing wage protects taxpayers, that with time it will help boost the state’s economy just as, they will argue, right-to-work has. It could be enough to trip up Democratic arguments.

Going back to the original point, though, one could put money on a bet that denying the prevailing wage repeal a spot on the ballot means it will be a ballot issue anyway come November.

Back to top