TIM SKUBICK: ‘Let’s make a Deal’ on raising minimum wage

Tim-SkubickLegislative Republicans, carrying the water for the state’s business community, are vehemently opposed to boosting the minimum wage.

Yet 8 years ago, Republicans actually did it and the biz lobby quietly supported it. And history could repeat itself this year.

In 2006 Democrats, lugging the water for the little guy, launched a statewide petition drive to let voters hike the wage because Republicans would not.

Word quickly reached the GOP leadership that Democrats had enough signatures to not only place it on the ballot, but the polling suggested it would pass.

At the time, the GOP had control of the house and senate but not by a wide margin and leaders knew with this on the ballot, more Democrats would flood to the polls to vote themselves a raise and then vote Republicans out of a job.

Faced with that stark reality, a super-secret conclave was called with all the business folks in the room. To a person they instructed the GOP leaders to make a deal with the Democrats to avoid the ballot question.

The reasoning behind the cave-in was spot on: If they lost control of either the house or senate or both, that would be far worse than fattening the paychecks of a few thousand minimum wage folks.

So Republicans, with their own necks on the line, proposed an increase and Gov. Jennifer Ganholm signed it which brings us to now.

Democrats will launch another petition drive to boost the minimum wage and the polling suggests it would pass. So will Republicans play Monty Hall to avoid losing legislative seats because of a strong Democratic voter turnout?

At this read, it’s possible but chances are not as good as they were in 2006. Republicans hold a commanding lead in the senate and if D’s somehow over come a 26-12 margin, it would be a miracle.

However the house is closer. Five seats separate the two parties and if the Republicans lose six seats, they lose control.

Does that drive GOP Speaker Jase Bolger to the table to work a deal to avoid the statewide vote?

He’s not committing to anything but he has a take on why this is happening.

“I understand the Democrats are not excited about their gubernatorial candidate. (Mark Schauer.) I understand they’re trying to look for ways to make that exciting in November, but I think we need to do what’s right for Michigan workers” as he fears a higher wage could actually force “people to lose their jobs.”

Asked if he would compromise, he didn’t close nor open the door. Besides it’s way too early to even hint at what he might do. First Democrats must demonstrate they can get the names and the votes.

Former Democratic Senator Bob Emerson was there in 2006 and thinks this might work again because Republicans know the question will “drive turn out to the polls.”

One organizer of this latest petition drive says this is not a ploy to get the Republicans to the bargaining table. But he says “I’m always willing to talk with Republicans.”

Actually negotiating instead of paying millions of advertising dollars to get voters to the polls would allow the Democrats to funnel money to win house seats rather than hoping enough voters show up to do it that way.

Either way this debate is not just about hiking the $7.50 per hour wage of some hamburger slinger. Not by a long shot, which is why both parties will monitor this petition drive and then decide their next move as the memory of 2006 hangs over this story.

 

Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.

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Posted by Tim Skubick

Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.

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