News Story

GOP Establishment Standing in Way of Prevailing Wage Reform

Rep. Joe Graves has been in the Michigan House of Representatives for a week but doesn’t mince words when asked about Michigan’s prevailing wage law.

“I absolutely won’t support increasing any fees or taxes (for road improvements) as long as we have prevailing wage in Michigan,” he said recently at an Independent Tea Party Patriots Meeting in Clarkston.

The Argentine Township Republican, who won a special election to fill the term of Rep. Paul Scott after he was recalled, vowed to work to eliminate the law that mandates that union-scale wages are paid on state construction projects. Prevailing wage laws inflate the costs of projects by up to 15 percent or more and are viewed by many as job killers.

Graves, along with Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, and Rep. Brad Jacobsen, R-Oxford, spoke most strongly about eliminating the law. In February 2011, Rep. Jacobsen introduced legislation that would end what he said was one of “the most restrictive prevailing wage laws in the country."

Sen. Jim Marleau, R-Orion Township, Sen. Dave Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, and Rep. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake, also said they supported repeal of the law but said there were other considerations and obstacles to making it happen.

“I’ve been working with the bill’s sponsor and the administration,” said Sen. Kowall, who chairs the Senate Economic Development Committee. “We’re hearing that the governor doesn’t want it on his desk. Privately I get a lot of Republicans who tell me, ‘Mike, let’s not move that.’ ”

His response was met with skepticism and subdued anger among the people in attendance.

“Ha,” someone from the back of the room scoffed, adding “spineless politicians.”

The worry among some legislators is that pushing that legislation and other bills like right-to-work that would fundamentally change the labor work rules in the state would cause more harm to the reform plan the governor and the GOP has put in place. All asked for broad public support to combat the army of paid union members who will rally at the State Capitol banging on walls, screaming and making untrue and outlandish statements to the mainstream media.

Such support certainly is necessary, said Bob Hoff, an ITPP advisory board member who moderated the panel discussion, but tea party activists are looking for action as well.

“You’ve got the opportunity now,” Hoff said. “If you wait, you might miss that opportunity.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.