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GOP plan to stop drive to increase the minimum wage: increase the minimum wage, of course

It’s Michigan minimum wage redux. This week, conservative Republican state Senator Rick Jones introduced a bill to increase Michigan’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.15 an hour. The measure would also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.65 to $2.75 an hour.

Yes, you read that correctly. A Republican lawmaker wants to increase the state’s minimum wage.

This is a GOP effort to get out in front of a petition drive - currently gathering signatures in the field - to boost the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for all workers, including tipped workers. The restaurant industry, which has plenty of pull in Lansing, does not like any of this. Not one bit.

But, if the polling is to be believed, voters here in Michigan like it. They like it a lot. The issue is polling above 65 percent. Even a majority of Republican voters like it. So, a few Republican lawmakers in Lansing, like Rick Jones, are saying it’s time to jump in front of this. Head it off.

“My intent is to stop the ballot initiative…” Jones told reporters in Lansing yesterday.

Jones wants to take the lid off the pressure cooker by passing a smaller minimum wage increase and preserving the lower minimum wage for tipped workers.  And, if it works, taking an issue from Democrats that could be used to turn out voters in November.

This would be just like when Governor Jennifer Granholm called for an increase to the state’s minimum wage in 2006. Which, by coincidence, was also a mid-presidential term election year when Democrats typically have a harder time turning out their voters. So (just like now, if it happens) Republicans in the Legislature tried to get ahead of the threat of a ballot drive by passing their own minimum wage law, which Granholm signed. Now, 2006 was still a Democratic blitz, although that was largely because President Bush was so unpopular. Granholm was reelected. Democrats took control of the state House.

This year is not going to be 2006.

This year, it’s President Obama on defense. The mid-terms are almost always tough on the party in the White House. So Democrats are looking for a little populist appeal to get out the vote and an increase to the minimum wage appears to be the ticket. And, it’s not just statewide, President Obama is pushing for an increase to the federal minimum wage, even coming to Michigan to push his plan - and giving a shout-out to the Michigan ballot drive at the same time.

Democrats think one of their best paths to success, in what’s expected to be a low-turnout year, is to convince Democratic voters who would otherwise stay home to get out to the polls. And Democratic voters, in particular, care about the minimum wage.

The petition drive underway in Michigan needs to collect a little more than 258,000 signatures by the end of May. If they succeed, the minimum wage question goes to the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Legislature would have until sometime this summer to act on it. If they don’t approve it, the $10.10 minimum wage would go on the November ballot.

If Republicans manage to preempt that, it would help preserve their built-in advantage this year. So they can try to suck the air out of the minimum wage drive before they get their signatures. Cut a deal. Something.

However, the prospects for success aren’t great. Labor groups are already saying the Jones plan is just too little. The Michigan State AFL-CIO called Jones’ measure an, “insult.”

And it looks like there are still plenty of Republicans who see the Jones’ proposal as a lose-lose, giving in on a minimum wage hike with poor prospects for stopping a ballot question. One of them is Republican state Senate Majority leader Randy Richardville. “I know what he’s trying to do and he’s got a lot of the business community actually supporting him.

The one person he doesn’t have is me at this point,” Richardville said.

And, it’s important to note, if the minimum wage question does go to the ballot, that’s not necessarily the end of it. Michigan’s constitution gives the Legislature the option of putting its own competing question on the ballot. The ballot question that gets the most votes wins. So Republicans could still concoct their own alternative with sweeteners to bring out their voters.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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