When outgoing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) sat down to sign a few bills Friday, photographers and local news cameras were not invited.
Fair enough. Subverting the popular will on your way out the door isn’t the sort of political act you want people to see.
Snyder’s latest lame-duck actions consummate a months-long scheme from his legislative allies to forestall improvements to low-wage workers’ economic security. The two bills signed into law Friday cancel a minimum wage hike and cut a wide loophole into the state’s new paid sick leave policy.
“It will now be 12 years before Michigan workers will earn $12 an hour,” Michigan League for Public Policy head Gilda Jacobs said in a statement blasting Snyder Friday. “This holiday season, the governor could have used his veto power to offer Michigan workers and their loved ones an opportunity to make a fair wage and recover from illness and care for sick children without losing their job, but he decided to serve them up a lump of coal instead.”
The lame-duck maneuvering is similar in spirit to exit-interview sabotage efforts from defeated Republican rulers in Wisconsin and elsewhere. But the specific tools Snyder and his fellow GOP elected officials are using have a slightly sneaker vibe.
Both the minimum wage proposal and sick leave policy were set to go to voters in the fall. They were likely to be approved, as such pro-worker initiatives have passed even in elections where Republicans opposed to those ideas fared far better than they did in 2018.
Legislators couldn’t have changed a voter-approved initiative without a three-quarters majority vote. So Michigan Republicans instead passed bills mirroring the ballot initiatives before Election Day, allowing them to amend their own bills with simple majorities before Snyder’s Democratic successor could be sworn in.
The wage measure voters were not allowed to approve would have slid the state’s hourly play floor up to $12 over the next three years, and ensured it kept pace with inflation automatically thereafter. Snyder’s signature Friday shoves low-wage workers onto a much slower escalator — the minimum wage will hit $12.05 more than a decade from now — and puts a cliff at the top of it by erasing the inflation adjustments.
The state’s current wage floor is $9.25 an hour. Snyder’s sabotage will mean minimum-wage workers get hourly raises averaging 23 cents a year over the next 12 years, in lieu of the roughly 70-cent average annual bump to their pay rate intended in the ballot measure.
Snyder’s other signature Friday is a doctor’s note for employers with 50 or fewer employees, excusing them from the new paid sick leave requirements Republicans had disingenuously enacted before voters could force them into law in November.
Democrats picked up several seats in each chamber of the Michigan legislature this fall. But Republicans still hold majorities. It will be difficult for minority Democrats to pick off the right-sided votes necessary to restore the prompt wage hike and inclusive sick leave law via normal rule in the spring.
The slick tricks and durable majorities of the Michigan GOP have made costly and slow litigation likely. Minimum wage advocates have pledged to sue Snyder and the state, though the tactical savvy conservatives displayed this fall likely leaves them facing a steeper legal hill than the one Wisconsin progressives hope to climb in their own lawsuit over similar undemocratic lame-duck shenanigans.