FILE - Michigan road construction

Road construction in Rochester Hills, Michigan, in July 2019 closes southbound Livernois and slows down traffic.

(The Center Square) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday she is reinstating the state’s prevailing wage rules, which the Michigan Legislature repealed in 2018.

Prevailing wage requires payment of higher wages to fulfill state contracts. Those wages are averaged to reflect the top of the industry pay scale, despite the fact construction and craft trades people typically garner high wages. Twenty-four states, including Michigan, had passed laws repealing prevailing wage laws.

Despite repealing the prevailing wage in 2018, the governor asserted in her news release the legislation “left the door open” for the Michigan Department of Management, Management and Budget “to require prevailing wage under its authority to develop the terms of state contracts.”

Critics of the governor’s Thursday reinstatement of prevailing wage were quick to point out the legal ramifications of her order. In a text message to The Center Square, Jimmie Greene, Associated Builders & Contractors of Michigan president, described the prevailing wage reinstatement as a “Lawless, pandering Governor desperate to bribe Michigan’s hardworking tradespeople to come back, despite her destructive policies.”

In an ABC press statement, Greene elaborated: “Gretchen Whitmer’s unilateral broadside of Michigan’s builders and contractors if both illegal and devastating to our state’s workforce,” he said. “Whitmer has spent the past 2 years ignoring state lawmakers while she destroys our jobs and economy. Now she’s signing illegal orders to undo laws that protect workers and taxpayers. Every worker in Michigan deserves the Governor’s respect. Instead she’s attacking them.”

ABC notes the prevailing wage reinstatement poses a negative impact on more than 100,000 Michigan craft trade professionals.

Angela Madarang, ABC Greater Michigan Chapter President, also expressed her concern the governor was acting unlawfully.

“After all that we know from the last three years, are any of us really surprised that Governor Whitmer would again ignore the will of the people and attempt to override state law to enact her partisan agenda,” Madarang wrote in a text message to The Center Square. “Our [members] will not back down from fighting for our livelihoods because Whitmer’s job-killing agenda has no place in Michigan’s construction industry.”

Michigan GOP Communications Director Gustavo Portela also questioned the legality of the governor’s action. “This is not only illegal, it is reckless,” he tweeted. “Pandering in an attempt to gain votes. It’s clear she’s feeling the heat. More to come…”

Former Gov. Rick Snyder signed the repeal in August 2018, after the bill passed the Michigan Senate by a 23-14 vote and the Michigan House of Representatives by a 56-53 vote.

The previous rules were estimated at the time to add up to $400 million each year to the construction costs for state projects, including schools and other public buildings as well as infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

“Michigan's prevailing wage law was the most stringent and complicated in the country,” Jarrett Skorup, director of marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said in 2018. “It upended the market bidding process, which made construction projects more costly, meaning that fewer schools and roads were being built. This was a bad deal for taxpayers and its repeal makes Michigan a more enterprising place to live and work.”

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.