- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A top Republican lawmaker’s proposal that would increase Michigan’s hourly minimum wage to $8.15 in September could thwart a current ballot drive to gradually raise it to $10.10 by 2017.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville introduced the bill Thursday, about three weeks before the deadline for backers of the higher wage hike to file signatures to put their initiated law before the GOP-led Legislature. Assuming legislators do nothing, the outside measure would head to a statewide vote in November.

Richardville’s bill, however, would repeal the existing minimum wage law - which sets the minimum at $7.40 - and enact a new one, potentially rendering the ballot initiative moot because it would amend current law.

“He is open to having a discussion about how we can put together a reasonable raise for the people of Michigan and still make sure we’re allowing a good, robust opportunity for job creation as well,” Richardville spokeswoman Amber McCann said. “The ballot has become a very easy and convenient place to push agendas and, just because people are going to the ballot, that shouldn’t preclude the Legislature from exercising its ability … to take control of the situation.”

The last time lawmakers approved a minimum wage increase, in 2006, Republicans struck a deal with then-Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm after it became apparent a ballot proposal was likely to pass if it reached voters. A poll earlier this year showed that 60 percent of likely Michigan voters supported raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

Republican legislators are being pressured to do something in response to the potential ballot measure - especially by the restaurant lobby, which is concerned that the initiative would give workers who rely on tips the same base wage as everyone else. The thinking is that threatening to neutralize the ballot proposal or approving a lower wage hike could bring Democratic lawmakers to the bargaining table.

Democrats’ initial reaction to Richardville’s bill was negative, though.

“The Republicans have gone out of their way to ignore the will of the people at every opportunity, so the only thing that surprises me about this legislation is how obvious they are in their intention to do so once again,” said Robert McCann, spokesman for Senate Democrats.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, who has criticized Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for not embracing a minimum wage increase, characterized the new legislation as an election-year gimmick.

“Let’s be clear, $8.15 an hour is still a poverty wage for families in Michigan, and we are better than that,” Schauer said. “This is not a serious proposal, and it should be rejected by the Legislature.”

Richardville, of Monroe, proposed his bill just weeks after opposing another GOP senator’s plan to increase the hourly minimum. Sen. Rick Jones’ legislation would also boost the minimum to $8.15 in current law and not directly affect the ballot initiative.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Friday that the governor would review Richardville’s bill, that there is “benefit and value in open discussion” and that he appreciates the Senate leader for being proactive on the issue. Snyder has declined to say if he would support a minimum wage increase. Wurfel said Snyder is focused on creating an environment for economic growth that leads to increased wages, citing programs such as one to help the structurally unemployed.

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Online:

Senate Bill 934: http://1.usa.gov/1noC86C

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