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Michigan Supreme Court Blocks $15 Minimum Wage Initiative from 2024 Ballot

In a significant development for Michigan's minimum wage debate, the Michigan Supreme Court has declined to override a decision by the Board of State Canvassers, effectively halting an initiative to place a $15 minimum wage proposal on the November 2024 ballot.

The group Raise the Wage Michigan had petitioned the state’s highest court to overturn the Board of State Canvassers' refusal to certify its petition, which aimed to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2027. The board had previously approved the initial petition language, which sought to lower the threshold for employer applicability from two employees to one. However, Raise the Wage later altered the wording in their circulated petitions, stating that the law would apply to employers with 21 or fewer workers. This change, the court ruled, could have unintentionally excluded small businesses from the minimum wage requirement.

The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked in a 2-2 vote, rejecting the revised petition. Justice Brian Zahra, writing a concurring opinion, supported the board's decision, emphasizing that the altered petition could have significant unintended consequences.

“It was abundantly reasonable for the Board to conclude that plaintiff failed to obtain preapproval of an accurate statement of the petition submitted for final approval, which, rather than increasing the minimum wage for all employees, may have served to eliminate it for thousands,” Zahra wrote.

The ruling also cited polling from the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, indicating that 61% of Michigan restaurant operators would lay off more than 25% of their tipped employees if the minimum-wage offset were substantially reduced or eliminated.

Justice Zahra underscored that decisions of this nature are best made by lawmakers and through democratic processes, rather than through judicial intervention. “As repeatedly indicated in similar cases, it is not the role of this Court to second guess and question the administration of election disputes properly left to the bipartisan oversight of the Board of State Canvassers,” Zahra wrote.

The ruling has been met with relief from industry representatives. Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, welcomed the court's decision, stating, "We are relieved that the Michigan Supreme Court agreed with Michigan Opportunity that the drafting errors in Raise the Wage's submission were so significant as to render it fatally flawed."

Michael LaFaive, senior director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, praised the ruling as "a win for Michigan," highlighting the potential negative impacts of mandated minimum wages on job opportunities and the net pay of tipped workers.

The Michigan Supreme Court's decision brings a temporary halt to the push for a $15 minimum wage, redirecting the focus back to lawmakers and the broader democratic process to address this contentious issue. As the state gears up for the 2024 elections, this ruling underscores the complexities and challenges involved in making significant policy changes through ballot initiatives.