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Higher Minimum Wage Likely to Pass in Some States

By    |   Monday, 03 November 2014 10:24 PM

Measures to raise the minimum wage are on the ballot in some states Tuesday – and have a good shot at passing even though efforts in state legislatures have mostly bombed.

Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all have binding referendums up for vote that would raise the state minimum wage above the $7.25 an hour mandated by the federal government, The New York Times reports.

In Alaska and Arkansas, the measures are so popular that opposition is practically nil.

"These [workers' advocates] groups have noticed that minimum-wage increases can easily pass — they have seen this in the past few years," John Matsusaka, executive director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, told The Times.

"They can't get it through the legislatures in these red states, so they do it this way."

Some Republicans charge the initiatives are a thinly disguised Democratic effort to get out the vote for struggling incumbents like Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska.

Supporters say the issue is about a living wage.

The ballot initiatives in Arkansas and South Dakota call for a minimum of $8.50 an hour, Nebraska's proposes a $9 minimum, and Alaska, $9.75.

Zach Polett, campaign director of Arkansas Fair Share, the advocacy group backing the $8.50 minimum wage there, said some advocates were hoping for a higher number.

"We decided to go with a level that had broad support in Arkansas," Zach Polett, campaign director of Arkansas Fair Share, told The Times. "We were looking to start where the state is. We're not New York, California or Seattle. We are the South."

Seattle has adopted a measure to raise its minimum wage ultimately to $15; San Francisco votes Tuesday on whether to approve a $15 minimum wage, and Oakland, Calif., voters will decide on a $12.25 minimum wage proposal.

"There's been the conflict about gentrification and the pushback around the tech industry, and a good part of the business sector has been looking for ways to defuse some of the issue," Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Times. "They see this as one way."

Ed Flanagan, a former state labor commissioner in Alaska, said he and two other former labor commissioners are involved in the minimum-wage initiative there; Alaska's current minimum is $7.75 an hour.

"We've gone from having the highest minimum wage in the country to being 19th, behind even Florida and Arizona," Flanagan told The Times. "I'm not claiming that $9.75 is a living wage in a state like Alaska."

The Alaska chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business is one of the few groups to oppose the campaign, The Times reports.

"All the data show that this would kill entry-level jobs, which means the unemployment level for our young people will go up," Dennis DeWitt, who heads the group, told The Times.

"This $2 increase will consume the budget that small businesses have to pay their employees."

Jackson Stephens Jr., founder of Exoxemis, a biotechnology company in Arkansas – and chairman of the conservative Club for Growth, sued to get the initiative thrown off the state's ballot, but lost.

Stephens said the initiative was a cover for other political activities, like Democrats' get-out-the-vote efforts.

"This is an overwhelmingly popular initiative," he said, noting that Republican and Democratic lawmakers have endorsed it. "This thing is going to pass whether I jump up and down or spend all my money."

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Measures to raise the minimum wage are on the ballot in some states Tuesday – and have a good shot at passing even though efforts in state legislatures have mostly bombed.
minimum, wage, ballot, pass
Monday, 03 November 2014 10:24 PM
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