AP News

Ballot effort underway to raise Mich. minimum wage


LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Groups backing an increase in Michigan's minimum wage laid the groundwork Monday for a statewide ballot drive in November, forming a committee that is very likely to commence with collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify.

"Our politicians in Lansing and D.C. have failed workers. There are a lot of people who work hard who've been waiting for a raise," said Frank Houston, treasurer of the Raise Michigan ballot committee.

Michigan's $7.40-an-hour minimum wage last went up in 2008 and is slightly higher than the $7.25 federal hourly minimum. Republicans have not embraced calls by both President Barack Obama and Michigan Democrats to raise the minimum wage to $10 at the federal and state levels. Democrats are planning to make income inequality a top issue this election year.

"All indications are that we're highly likely to move forward," said Houston, who also is chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party. "We fully expect Michigan to be the No. 1 place in the country where we're having a conversation around economic dignity and inequality."

The coalition involved includes labor unions, community organizers, a restaurant worker center, and faith-based and civil rights groups. The groups sent out statements Monday from low-wage mothers who said their income is not enough to get by.

"If you work full-time you shouldn't live in poverty," said Rebecca Hatley-Watkins, 23, of Kalamazoo.

A final decision to proceed is expected within days. The proposal would likely aim to change a state statute, not change the state constitution. The minimum wage would rise to the "ballpark" of between $9 and $10.10 an hour and be indexed to inflation, Houston said.

Republicans have said hiking the minimum wage would hurt employers' ability to hire people. The restaurant industry says it already operates on thin margins and argues sharply higher wages would lead to steeper prices.

"If Michigan increases the cost of employing entry-level workers, lower-skilled workers will see less job opportunities because employers will be forced to hire higher-skilled job applicants to fill multiple roles or cut jobs to absorb the costs associated with the increase," said Wendy Block, director of health policy and human resources for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The group said businesses already are grappling with costs associated with the federal health care law and that government should focus on helping people get jobs, not make it more expensive to hire them.

In November, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer proposed increasing the hourly minimum to $9.25 over three years. He said it would aid the consumer-driven economy by putting more money in employees' pockets and give low-wage workers the same buying power as 1968, when the wage had its highest purchasing power.

A message seeking comment was left for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is up for re-election. He has said raising the wage could have negative consequences.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson, who has wanted to avoid ballot issues this year to stay focused on candidate campaigns, said in a statement that it was not surprising to see "a lot of energy surrounding this issue. Democrats at all levels are fighting to increase the minimum wage because we believe that people who work hard and play by the rules deserve a fair shot at supporting themselves and their families."

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00


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