Minimum Wage Measures Advance in Neighboring States
A Few Cracks Begin to Show in GOP Opposition
In late April, shortly before a scheduled U.S. Senate vote on the matter, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said Republicans should support increasing the minimum wage. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Rick Santorum have made similar comments – which seem to reflect a growing unease among some Republicans in opposing such a politically popular policy choice.
Republicans in Michigan may have been influenced by that sort of advice this week, when the GOP-controlled legislature approved a bill raising that state’s minimum wage to $9.25 per hour by 2018 (from the current level of $7.40). Once it reaches $9.25, the minimum will generally be adjusted annually for inflation, provided the unemployment rate is below 8.5%.
Political pragmatism seems to have played a significant role in the passage of the Michigan bill, which their GOP governor quickly signed, because its enactment is expected to weaken support for a November ballot initiative that would raise their minimum wage even more — to $10.10 an hour, with adjustments every year for inflation, and with a significant improvement to the lower minimum wage for tipped employees. Against that backdrop, the smaller increase was approved this week with broad bipartisan support – by a vote of 76 to 34 in the House and 24 to 12 in the Senate. (Nevertheless, the referendum measure is expected to be on the November ballot.)
Elsewhere in the Midwest this week, there was also some action on the minimum wage in Illinois, where a Senate committee approved a plan to ask voters whether the state should increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. Political pragmatism seems to have had a somewhat different effect in that Democratically-controlled state – by favoring the referendum approach. That strategy was approved after Democrats were unable to pass a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.65 per hour, from the current $8.25. However, another probable consideration among Democrats is that the advisory referendum is likely to boost voter turnout among their base during an important gubernatorial and legislative election.
Turning a little to the west, the minimum wage is going to rise substantially in Minnesota over the next several years, after Governor Dayton signed a bill in April that will increase it in three steps to $9.50 by August 2016 (for employers with annual payrolls of more than $500,000). There are exceptions for teens and those getting trained in new jobs. Prior to this new law, Minnesota has had one of the lowest state minimum wages in the country – just $6.25 per hour. After 2016, the minimum will be adjusted for inflation each year (up to 2.5% per year).
Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, the Legislature has adjourned the 2013-14 session without any action on the minimum wage, which continues to be $7.25 per hour.
If you’re interested in tracking state activity on the minimum wage, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) maintains a thorough list of state actions. And an article on Stateline.org discusses some of the political dimensions of the issue, and also summarizes some of the activity to increase the minimum wage at the municipal level. You can also read more in this commentary posted on Forbes about why support for minimum wage increases is growing at both the state and Congressional level.