No Michigan vote allowed on raising minimum wage

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s election board on Thursday
nixed a voter-initiated proposal to raise the minimum wage, ruling that
organizers did not collect enough valid voter signatures to qualify.
The
3-1 vote against certifying the minimum wage drive means lawmakers’
approval in May of smaller increases in the hourly wage likely will
remain, though advocates of a bigger raise did not rule out an appeal.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the law gradually increasing the wage
from $7.40 to $9.25 an hour — and repealing the law the ballot drive
sought to amend — just before Raise Michigan submitted 320,000 petition
signatures to raise the minimum to $10.10 over time.
The law and the proposal also build in annual inflationary wage increase down the line.
Two
Republicans and one Democrat on the Board of State Canvassers found
that Raise Michigan was about 3,900 valid signatures short of the
258,000 needed. The group had turned in nearly 320,000 signatures, but
many tens of thousands were tossed because of duplicates, unregistered
voters and other issues.
The board’s staff at the secretary of
state’s office initially estimated that Raise Michigan — a coalition of
labor interests and community organizers led by a Democratic county
chairman — collected about 1,700 more signatures than needed. But once
the board accounted for duplicates identified by a restaurant-backed
group opposing the proposal, it disqualified another 5,600.
"I want to keep fraudulent signatures out of the mix," said Colleen Pero, the board’s
Republican chairwoman.
Julie
Matuzak, a Democrat who favored certifying the initiative, echoed
complaints lodged by Raise Michigan’s attorney that the board improperly
allowed the opposition to file challenges to duplicates at the last
minute.
"We had a deadline. I think deadlines mean something. I believe this challenge was not filed in a
timely manner," she said.
The
board did not weigh in on the separate contention — pressed by the
restaurant group People Protecting Michigan Jobs and Republican Attorney
General Bill Schuette’s office — that the ballot question is moot since
legislators thwarted its advance by repealing the law that the
advocates tried to change.
"It was clear that the fix was in
early," said Frank Houston, treasurer of Raise Michigan, who said the
group may file a lawsuit soon.
Democrats had hoped the minimum
wage ballot issue would help drive their voters to the polls for
November’s gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and legislative elections while
ultimately giving low-wage workers a bigger raise than what Democratic
and Republican lawmakers negotiated a couple months ago.
Bars and
restaurants have expressed concern in particular that the proposal would
make Michigan’s $2.65 minimum wage for tipped employees the same as it
is for other workers. State law requires businesses to ensure tipped
employees still make at least the $7.40 hourly minimum wage.
The law signed in May increases the wage for workers who get tips to $3.52.
"We’d
be the only state east of the Mississippi River not to have the tipped
credit," Justin Winslow, vice president of government affairs for the
Michigan Restaurant Association, said the ballot initiative. "It’s bad
for business. It definitely doesn’t put an open for business sign out
for Michigan."
Also Thursday, the board approved a possible third
wolf-hunting measure for the statewide ballot, voting 4-0 to certify the
proposed law that could make moot two wolf-hunting referendums on the
November statewide ballot. The measure would allow the Legislature or
the appointed Natural Resources Commission to designate a species as
game that could be hunted.
The Republican-led Legislature is expected to approve the law in August. If it does not act, the proposal
will go to voters.
Michigan
last year held its first wolf hunt since the animal was placed on the
endangered species list nearly 40 years ago. Opponents of wolf hunting
have collected enough signatures to ask voters to repeal two 2013 laws
that cleared the way for the first hunt and possibly more.
"Legislators
need to trust the voters who put them in office by allowing a fair vote
of the people on this initiative," said Jill Fritz, director of Keep
Michigan Wolves Protected.