By Kathleen Gray
It took all day to reach a compromise on raising the minimum wage to $9.25 per hour. But once a deal was reached, it passed both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in less than one hour.
Michigan's low-wage workers could see their pay scale start to increase as early as Sept. 1. The wage will gradually increase to $9.25 per hour by 2018, and it would be linked to the rate of inflation in Midwestern states under a compromise bill that received final passage in the House by a 76-34 vote and by a 24-12 margin in the Senate.
"It's great to see success like this in the Legislature," said Snyder. "This was a great exercise in bipartisanship."
The quick passage came so the bill can become law before a group pushing for a $10.10 minimum wage turns in its signatures to get that rate on the November ballot. The Raise Michigan coalitions, which spearheaded the petition drive, still plans to turn more than 300,000 signatures into the Secretary of State on Wednesday. But the petitions become moot because the law the initiative is trying to change was repealed by the Legislature today.
"I'm going to support this with a heavy heart. I don't believe the government has a place in adjusting wages in our society," said state Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle. "But the alternative is terrible. Proposals before us would lose many more jobs in northern Michigan."
State Rep. McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, voted against the package, saying it would cause jobs to be lost and hurt Michigan's economy. "Requiring business to pay more than the market can bear is just very bad policy," he said. "This is the kind of thing that sends jobs to China. We need to keep American jobs here."
But House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said the compromise was a tremendous win for Michigan's working families, even if it did scuttle the petition drive.
"We have not had minimum-wage increase since 2006," he said. "It is long overdue that we give Michigan workers a raise."
And Candace Cooper, a Detroit resident who collected 2,000 signatures for the $10.10 petition drive, said that while the bill wasn't everything wanted, "I do have solace in knowing that if not for our efforts, this wouldn't have happened. We could have been at $7.40 for a long time if not for this petition drive."
The compromise came after a House committee voted this morning to tweak the Senate-passed version of $9.20 per hour to $8.50 and drop the link to inflation. That version would have lost Democratic votes and perhaps killed the deal. The compromise keeps the inflation link with Midwestern states, rather than the U.S. rate of inflation, but the rate couldn't go up more than 3.5% or if the unemployment rate reaches 8.5%.
"This is a workable compromise," said state Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica. "I saw the $10.10 proposal as wrecking our economy."
The rate for tipped employees such as waitresses and bartenders was a huge sticking point for Republicans because the $10.10 proposal would have gradually raised the wage for tipped employees to $10.10. The compromise bill would raise the wage from the current level of $2.65 per hour to $3.51 per hour.
The main objective of Republicans in the Legislature, who hold majorities in both chambers, was to keep the $10.10 wage measure off the November ballot -- which could have brought Democrats, who supported the $10.10 ballot initiative, in large numbers to the polls -- and kill the petition drive.
Mark Schauer, Democratic candidate for governor, noted he proposed the $9.25 minimum-wage hike six months ago, "and Gov. Snyder said it wasn't a significant issue. I'm just sorry it took the Republicans and Snyder so long to act on this."
Former opponents of the wage hike, including the Michigan Restaurant Association, said they were pleased with the compromise; restaurants would have had to significantly increase the wages of tipped employees under the ballot initiative. The MRA called the $10.10 proposal "gross negligence" that would have forced the closure of many restaurants.
Secretary of State officials said the process for the ballot initiative will continue if the group submits its signatures. The agency will check to see whether there are enough valid signatures to appear on the November ballot. But if there are, the question would become merely symbolic.
The coalition is scheduled to turn in more than 300,000 signatures to the Secretary of State at 11 a.m. Wednesday. It needed 258,088 to qualify for the ballot.
"We're still pushing forward," said Cooper, a member of the Raise Michigan coalition. "I will be honored to present the petitions tomorrow, because this is what the will of the people is."
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