MichMash: Prevailing Wage and the Power of Your Signature

Cheyna Roth and Jake Neher talk about how signing a ‘ballot proposal’ petition is more complicated than it might seem.

Jake Neher/WDET

The Legislature made a controversial move this week. It took up a ballot proposal to get rid of a state law that required union-level wages for state contracts. But while this is just one ballot proposal, there could be long-reaching ramifications.

Click on the audio player above to hear WDET’s Jake Neher and Michigan Public Radio’s Cheyna Roth talk about it.

Click here to hear a recent conversation on MichMash about the prevailing wage issue — what the controversy is all about and why it matters to you.

Remind me what’s going on?

A citizen initiated petition, following some court battles, was finally certified by the Board of State Canvassers.

Due to the type of proposal, the Legislature had first crack at passing it instead of sending it to the voters.

“The Legislature voted to pass the repeal of prevailing wage and now it is no more,” says Michigan Public Radio’s Cheyna Roth. She goes on to explain that this initiative is also immune from Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature. That’s significant because Snyder has indicated in the past that he would indeed pick up his pen and veto such a repeal.

As WDET’s Jake Neher explains, “This was the way for Republicans in the Legislature to circumvent the governor on this issue.”

Wait, so a ballot proposal can be passed by the Legislature?

Exactly. And it’s that procedure that had some opponents of the measure really frustrated.

Tom Lutz of the Michigan Regional Chamber of Carpenters said, “Some people call it ironic, I think I might use the word hypocritical to take something to the voters, tell them we’re going to put it on the ballot and use this policy or procedure to shortcut that.”

But Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), a longtime supporter of repealing prevailing wage, says Lutz has it wrong.

“When citizens do a petition language like this much like the marijuana thing, they know that the Legislature is going to weigh in on it, and we did.”

Okay…so what does this mean going forward?

Neher has some thoughts on what this might mean for the future. He says while this is a procedure that has been around for a very long time and part of the state’s constitution, it’s the first time in a long time it’s been used to circumvent a veto. And with an election looming, it’s possible Michigan could soon have a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature.

“There’s a good chance (if that happens) that Republicans could keep circumventing the party in…the governor’s seat. So it’s going to be interesting to see if this is going to be used more in the future.”

Where do I fit into all this?

You’re a (potential) voter! That is, unless you’re a part of our 17-year-old and younger crowd, in which case, keep this in mind! 

When someone approaches you with a clipboard, you may have that instinct to sign any petition that sounds good from the clip-board-holder’s elevator pitch. Ignore that instinct.

Roth and Neher agree, you should be asking questions, such as: 

What exactly is this measure? (Get the details. Or, better yet, read the petition language on the petition itself.)
Is the person asking for your signature being paid?
Could this go through the Legislature?
Is this a constitutional amendment?

So the next time someone approaches you with a clipboard, don’t be afraid to take the time to ask questions, because, as Roth puts it, “Your signature can have a lot of power.”


  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.