State minimum-wage deal is worth effort to cheer about

For a few hours (last) Tuesday, it looked like retrograde Republicans in the state House had figured out how to kill a bipartisan compromise designed to improve the lot of Michigan’s working families.

But cooler heads prevailed, and the result was a minimum-wage bill that gives both parties something to cheer about.

We didn’t think much of Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville’s proposal to boost Michigan’s $7.40-an-hour minimum wage when he unveiled it a couple of weeks ago. Combining a paltry three-year, 75-cent hike with some procedural sleight-of-hand calculated to knock a more generous minimum-wage proposal off the November ballot, Richardville’s opening gambit struck us as a cynical power play, one that effectively stripped voters of their constitutional right to bypass legislators insensitive to their constituents’ priorities.

But we were pleasantly surprised when the Senate disgorged a compromise bill that would raise the minimum wage to $9.20 by 2017 – two-thirds of the $2.70 hike sought by champions of the ballot proposal. The compromise captured the support of 10 Democratic state senators, enough to guarantee its passage by an unusual 24-12 bipartisan majority.

For once, the Senate was doing what voters have repeatedly implored their elected representatives in Lansing to do: rise above partisan gridlock to deliver progress on important economic issues.

Then, on Tuesday, the Republican-led House Government Operations Committee weighed in with its own minimum-wage bill, a deal-buster calculated to nip the Senate’s bipartisan initiative in the bud.

Like the Senate-passed bill, the Government Operations Committee’s version would have replaced, rather than amended, Michigan’s existing minimum-wage statute – a strategy whose only purpose is to render Raise Michigan’s $10.10 ballot initiative moot by repealing the law that the initiative seeks to amend. But instead of ameliorating that insult to voters with a substantial minimum-wage hike, the committee bill would have slashed the increase to just $1.10 an hour over three years. It also stripped out the annual inflation adjustment that state senators had preserved in their compromise bill.

But the hyper-partisan Government Operations bill was flying in the face of poll results suggesting that a majority of the electorate still saw the more-generous Senate bill as a subterfuge designed to disenfranchise voters. When it became obvious that Senate Democrats wouldn’t support the stingier House version, the Legislature’s grown-ups took charge, substituting a bill that boosts the minimum wage to $9.25 by 2018 and assures periodic adjustments for inflation. It passed the full House with bipartisan support, and was headed for Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature by Tuesday evening.

We remain disturbed by the Legislature’s end-run around the initiative process. If lawmakers want to diminish the authority that the Michigan Constitution invests in the state’s voters, it should do so openly by amending the constitution, not through parliamentary tricks.

Still, the minimum-wage compromise is a reasonable won that respects the tens of thousands of voters who supported Raise Michigan’s ballot proposal. It’s also an encouraging sign that more moderate GOP lawmakers can occasionally prevail over the tea party zealots who too often call the Legislature’s tune.