WESTLAND, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder's plan to put the state's item-pricing law on the shelf is being met with concern by unions, open arms by retailers and mixed reviews from shoppers.
The Republican told lawmakers during his first State of the State address he'd like to see them eliminate the "antiquated" measure that mandates price tags on most every item, noting Michigan is one of only two states with such a requirement.
Some younger, more tech-savvy consumers prefer operating in-store scanners to learn the prices of items and whipping out their smart phones to compare prices and use coupons.
Others see Michigan's unique statute as the ultimate protection against erroneous pricing.
This particular supercenter looked to be complying with the Pricing and Advertising of Consumer Items Act of 1976.
Around 250 boxes of macaroni and cheese each had individual stickers affixed to them, in addition to a clearly marked shelf price. A few feet away, 50 20-pound bags of bird seed were piled high below an oversized sign advertising the cost, and each sack — even ones on the very bottom — featured a sticker.
Down the road at Nankin Ace Hardware & Hobby, manager Bob Rates said his store adheres to the law, but would love to see it go away.
"That's something, as a retailer, that everybody wants — to not have to price things. It saves on the cost of stickers. It saves time. It'd be perfect," he said. "It'd be a cost savings for us to not have to buy the stickers along with the product and then of course a time-saver by not having to put them on."
And that's Snyder's point. The law, conceived of 35 years ago in a much different world technologically, hurts retailers, he says.
"While some laws need updating, other laws are simply relics of a time past and need to be scrapped," the governor said Wednesday night. "Michigan's 1970-vintage item pricing law is Exhibit A. Revitalizing our economy demands that we weed out needless regulations that cost consumers and throw up barriers to competition."
Once upon a time, Frank Kelley was the face of item pricing in Michigan.
A Democrat who served as state attorney general for nearly 40 years, Kelley doggedly enforced the law, making surprise visits to retail outlets with his staff in tow to make sure the stores were in compliance and touting such efforts during his many re-election bids.
Now, though, Kelley says it might just be time to make a change.
"I enforced it well when I was there, but I'm open to give it a try," Kelley told The Associated Press.
He says technology has finally reached the point that sticking a price on nearly every item has become unnecessary. Plus, he says, if the rest of the U.S. can make it work, so can Michigan.
"Other states have done it and have satisfied the consumer groups in those states that they can be accurate in sufficient amounts," Kelley said.
The only other state with a similar statute is Massachusetts, whose item-pricing law applies now only to food retailers. Other Bay State outlets have the option of item-pricing or erecting conspicuous signage and placing scanners in the aisles. Some even provide printers that give customers their own stickers, so they can item-price themselves.
Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, says it's a start, but he still wants to see grocery stores in his state go the way of other retailers. And he thinks Michigan also needs to get on board.
"Those who say it has to do with jobs and so forth haven't recognized the reality that there are just as many people working in a grocery store in Massachusetts and Michigan as there are in Ohio or New Hampshire. It's just how productive is the use of their time," he said.
Jobs and consumer protection long have been the keywords in any argument for keeping item pricing. While Chris Michalakis of the United Food and Commercial Workers still has concerns, he says his group is willing to work with Snyder on coming up "with a fair compromise."
"If we do end up with a weaker law, it would be good to see it applied universally and not have one set of laws for Kroger and Meijer and another set of laws for Sam's Club and Costco," said Michalakis, the UFCW's legislative and political director in Michigan.
State lawmakers haven't made much of an effort in recent years to tinker with the law, because they knew it had little chance of getting approval from Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The House passed a bill during the 2006 lame-duck session that would have eliminated item pricing on several types of nonfood items, but it didn't come up for a Senate vote.
Now, with a Republican governor and a GOP-led Legislature in place, it might finally be time to take the stickers away.
"If you look at 48 other states that don't have this regulation, we just think it's a huge, huge repeal of a burdensome law," said Linda Gobler, president and CEO of the Michigan Grocers Association.
Gobler says a lot of people don't even know the law exists.
"When you tell them that we're still required to put these little, glued stickers on every item in the store, they just look at you like you're crazy," she said.