Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed legislation Tuesday hiking his state’s minimum wage to $9.25 an hour over four years, dodging what could have been a political hurdle as he seeks re-election this year.
Snyder had come under pressure from Democrats, led by his likely general election opponent, former representative Mark Schauer. He signed the wage increase one day before labor groups planned to turn in more than 300,000 signatures to get a minimum wage hike on November’s ballot.
At a news conference Tuesday, Snyder sought to take some measure of credit for the increase.
“I commend my partners in the legislature for finding common ground on a bill that will help Michigan workers and protect our state’s growing economy,” Snyder said in a statement. State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D) joined Republican leaders at Snyder’s news conference.
Organizers of the petition drive said they would still turn in the signatures, though it’s not clear whether the initiative will be able to qualify for the ballot. The bill Snyder signed repeals the current minimum wage law, which the ballot initiative would have amended; without the standing law in place, the initiative may be moot.
An initiative needs 258,087 valid signatures, a number equal to 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the preceding gubernatorial race, to make the ballot.
Many Republicans in the legislature opposed the increase. A majority of House Republicans voted against the measure, though House Speaker Jase Bolger (R) helped shepherd it through to protect Snyder. All but two Democrats in each chamber voted for the increase, which also indexes the minimum wage to inflation.
Several Republicans said they voted for the legislature’s version of the wage hike to avoid the possibility of a ballot initiative passing; the ballot initiative would have increased the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, for both regular and tipped-wage employees.
“I saw $10.10 wrecking our economy; I couldn’t stand by and let that happen,” Rep. Jeff Farrington (R) told MLive. “Do I like this as it came out? It wouldn’t have been what I wrote individually, but it’s a heck of a lot better than what the alternative was.”
Two recent polls show Snyder leading Shauer, though the governor isn’t in the clear. A Glengariff Group poll for the Detroit News and WDIV-TV showed Snyder ahead by a margin of 45 percent to 35 percent, while an EPIC-MRA survey conducted for the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV showed Snyder ahead 47 percent to 38 percent.
The EPIC-MRA survey showed a majority of Michiganders rate Snyder’s job performance negatively; 58 percent said he was doing a fair or poor job, compared with 41 percent who said he was doing an excellent or pretty good job. Forty-six percent said they had a favorable view of Snyder, down from 52 percent in February, the last time the Michigan-based pollsters surveyed the field. The Detroit News poll showed Snyder with a stronger 54 percent approval rating.
But voters are starting to become more optimistic about a state that was once mired in debt and burdened by the nation’s highest unemployment rate. Forty-five percent of those surveyed by the Glengariff Group said Michigan was headed down the right track, while 41 percent said the state was on the wrong track.
Both Democrats and Republicans see the battle for Michigan’s governorship as one of the most competitive races of the year, along with contests in Florida and Pennsylvania.