Although a constitutional amendment to gradually raise Michigan’s minimum wage is set to be on the ballot this November, Republican leaders in the state Senate and House took control of the measure legislatively Wednesday.
Republicans lawmakers in both chambers passed the minimum-wage ballot initiative proposed by One Fair Wage. The move gives them the ability to later amend the legislation with simple majority support in the legislature. If the legislature allows the proposed Constitutional amendment to go up for a vote in November’s referendum, they would need a two-thirds majority to change anything in the future.
“We’ll consider different options and a whole suite of things we think are more friendly to Michigan, to make sure that workers are indeed cared for, and that still provide for economic development moving forward,” Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, told reporters following the vote, according to Detroit News.
Most Democrats, who tend to support the proposal in its original form, opposed Wednesday's move by Republicans.
Peter Vargas, One Fair Wage campaign manager, told Watchdog.org that his organization will take legal action against the legislature to prevent this from going into effect, and instead try to compel the state to put the proposal on the ballot as is.
“We will sue to defend the initiative process in Michigan,” Vargas said. “Adopting and amending a ballot measure in the same legislative session [is] unprecedented and unconstitutional.”
Michigan’s current minimum wage is $9.25 per hour, with the exception of certain occupations that also earn money from tips, such as waiters and waitresses. The proposal would gradually increase the minimum wage over the next four years until it reaches $12 per hour in 2022. It also would gradually include hikes for tipped employees, who would reach a minimum of $12 per hour by 2024. In contrast, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Vargas said he expects Republican lawmakers will try to amend the legislation by reducing the amount the minimum wage is raised to or by removing tipped workers from being affected by the minimum wage laws.
“The effort is an attempt to subvert the rights of the 400,000 Michigan voters who signed the petition to put the measure on the November ballot,” Vargas said.
Increasing the minimum wage would encourage people to buy more goods, which would help create jobs, Vargas said. He said that when people have more money, they will be less likely to be dependent on public assistance. Restaurant workers, he said, would be most affected, because they make a base pay of $3.52 per hour.
Jarrett Skorup, director of Marketing and Communications at the free-market think tank the Mackinac Center, told Watchdog.org that raising the minimum wage would have the opposite effect and actually harm Michigan's economy.
“The only real minimum wage is zero,” he said. “That is, to avoid paying costs they can’t afford, businesses can lay off employees or not hire them going forward. The bulk of the research shows government wage mandates do more harm than good, especially to those with fewer skills who are trying to climb the income ladder.”
Raising the minimum wage, Skorup said, will mean fewer jobs, especially for younger workers and those who have the least amount of skills. Policy makers, he said, should prevent this ballot proposal if they have the means to do so.