Snyder signs neutered minimum wage, sick time bills

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Gov. Rick Snyder today signed GOP legislation that drastically scaled back a minimum wage increase and guaranteed paid sick time from measures the GOP-controlled Legislature adopted in September.

Both were citizen-led ballot initiatives that collected more than 370,000 signatures apiece in support of the measures, exceeding the 252,523 signatures required to put them to a statewide vote in Nov. 6. However, the Republican-led Legislature opted to OK the measures in order to keep them off the ballot.

Rick Snyder | Susan J. Demas

In a statement, Snyder, a Republican who leaves office on Jan. 1, said he believes that the legislation continues the state’s positive economic momentum.

“I look at legislation presented to me through a policy lens — is it the right policy for the state of Michigan and Michiganders as a whole? That’s what I did with these bills and have now signed them into law,” Snyder said in a statement. “I looked at what the potential impacts and benefits of the changes would be and decided that signing these bills was the appropriate action.”

The minimum wage bill is Senate Bill 1171, sponsored by Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell), and the paid sick leave bills is SB 1175, sponsored by Sen. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

In September, lawmakers adopted the One Fair Wage petition to raise the minimum wage from its current rate of $9.25 per hour to $12 per hour by 2022. Tipped workers, who have a $3.52 minimum wage per hour, would also have seen an increase to $12.

SB 1171 slow-walks the minimum wage to $12.05 by 2030. Tipped workers would see their minimum wage rise only to $4.58 by 2030.

An economist who tracks minimum wage increases told the Advance that a slower raising of the minimum wage could help stave off job losses, but will hurt lower-income workers and some workers further up the economic ladder.

Members of Indivisible Huron Valley protesting cuts to minimum wage and sick leave. Michigan Capitol, Dec. 4, 2018 | Ken Coleman

Under the paid sick time ballot proposals, workers could earn 72 hours of paid time per year under the citizen-initiated plan. SB 1175 decreases that to 40 hours, exempting businesses employing 50 or fewer people. The original initiative was for employers with six or more workers.

Snyder said the bill is on par with the average rate for 10 other states with similar laws. Employees will also be able to carry over 40 hours of paid medical leave each year.

“The two bills I signed today strike a good balance between the initial proposals and the original legislation as drafted,” Snyder said. “They address a number of difficulties for job providers while still ensuring paid medical leave benefits and increased minimum-wage incomes for many Michiganders.”

The nonpartisan Michigan League for Public Policy couldn’t disagree more, however. The organization, citing data from Brandeis University, wrote that 55 percent of Michigan workers won’t be covered under the new paid sick time law.

MI Time to Care, the group that pushed for the paid sick time petition drive, said today that it’s about 40 percent of workers not covered under the new law.

When asked whether Snyder’s statements about balancing concerns between employers and workers were reasonable, League Senior Policy Analyst Peter Ruark said, “No, it’s not reasonable.” He added that paid sick time particularly, serves as both a mechanism for attracting workers to Michigan and as a good policy for public health.

“You don’t want snot in your soup when you go to a restaurant,” Ruark told the Advance.

The move to let the GOP-controlled Legislature take up the petitions — as is its right under state law — appears largely unpopular. Democrats in the Legislature, many of whom voted to approve the initiatives in September, believed that long-standing legal precedent would be on their side. They cite 1964 opinion from Democratic former Attorney General Frank Kelley, who said the Legislature couldn’t adopt and amend a citizen-backed initiative in the same session.

Bill Schuette

The Legislature has never done so. However, current Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, gave Republicans the legal green light. Mark Brewer, an attorney for the ballot initiatives, has told the Advance that groups may seek legal action.

Polling released this morning from the Economic Justice Alliance for Michigan and conducted by Benenson Strategy Group found that a large percentage of both Democrats and Republicans supported the original policies, with 84 percent of Michganders supporting the paid sick leave initiative and 77 percent supporting increasing the state’s minimum wage. The latter was supported by 58 percent of the state’s Republicans and the former was supported by 80 percent, according to the survey.  

“It’s no surprise that legislators who pulled a bait-and-switch to gut these popular initiatives also suffered a major loss of support among the public who overwhelmingly support earned paid sick time and a minimum wage increase,” Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan Executive Director DeWayne Wells aid in a statement. “For the people of Michigan, this is personal, not politics. They were very clear that they want Michigan to grow in a way that benefits them, not just the special interests.”

For his part, Snyder stated that the ballot proposals “were well-intentioned, but would have resulted in cost and compliance burdens for job providers that could have negatively impacted employment in Michigan.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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