Dems want to increase state minimum wage

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Democrats are looking to increase the state’s minimum wage.

Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, is proposing to increase the minimum wage for employers  with annual revenue of more than $625,000  by more than a dollar an hour.

Her bill would push the minimum wage up from $6.15 an hour to at least $7.50.

Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, is proposing legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Eaton, who presented her bill at a Senate DFL rollout of top legislation Thursday (Jan. 10), said it’s been a Minnesota value “that honest, hard-working people deserve a fair minimum wage.”

“Whether it’s the teenager with a part-time job or the low-income worker struggling to stretch each paycheck, putting more money in the pockets of minimum wage earners is good for the whole economy,” she said in a statement.

A couple with two children working for minimum wage must work 155 hours a week in order to support them, Eaton said.

Democrats gauge the proposed minimum wage hike by comparing it to the existing federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Only the states of Minnesota, Arkansas, Georgia, and Wyoming have state minimum wages lower than the federal.

Five states, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama, have no minimum wage laws at all, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Wisconsin, Iowa, North and South Dakota have higher minimum wages than Minnesota: $7.25 an hour.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, styled Eaton’s minimum wage bill as “something very close to me.”

Eaton’s bill does not change the minimum wage for smaller employers, those bringing in less than $625,000 a year.

That is left at $5.25 an hour.

But the legislation includes a minimum wage inflation adjustment provision.

Ryan Winkler, chairman of the House Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs,  believes the House will vote to increase the minimum wage.

“I don’t know what the magic number is,” said Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. .

Personally, he favors an inflation adjustment provision, he said.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton supports increasing the minimum wage.

“Yes, for over 10 years the governor has supported a higher minimum wage,” said Dayton Spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci.

“In fact, he believes the minimum wage should be a living wage–so that a working person is able to support a family of four, at least at the federal poverty level,” she said in an email.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce opposes raising the minimum wage.

“Raising the minimum wage negatively impacts job growth and hurts businesses that are already struggling in a tough economy,” said Ben Gerber, the chamber’s  Energy & Labor/Management Policy Manager.

Other pieces of key legislation presented by Senate Democrats Thursday include a proposal by Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, that would provide funding for all-day kindergarten at public schools.

The legislation does not mandate that all-day kindergarten by offered.

Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, is carrying legislation to fund all-day kindergarten. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“Studies have shown that students who attend all-day kindergarten programs score better on tests and make stronger academic gains as they move through the first and second grade,” said Clausen, a former school principal.

According to the Senate DFL, currently about 49 percent of Minnesota children attend all-day kindergarten.

Of these, about 17 percent are enrolled in programs where a fee is charged.

Senate Democrats estimate the cost of their all-day kindergarten proposal at $170 million a year.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher enthusiastically endorsed the proposal.

“Providing universal access to all-day, every day kindergarten would be among the most significant steps Minnesota has ever taken to reduce the academic achievement gap,” said the teacher union president.

“It’s a proven approach that educators can support as it moves through the Legislature.” Dooher said.

Senate Democrats cited a multi-year study by the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District that concluded test scores of all-day kindergarten students were higher than a control group of students.

Moreover, the boost was sustained over the next three years, with some drop off by the third grade.

Dayton has indicated that early childhood education was one of his top legislative priorities.

Bakk unrolled a bill of his own, one making it harder for lawmakers to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.

The two recent Republican amendments, the marriage and photo ID amendments, provide examples of how “ugly” it can get when a simple majority of the Legislature attempts to sidestep the governor and legislate through constitutional amendments, he argued.

Bakk personally fought against some proposed DFL constitutional amendments.

He gave a memorable speech on the Senate floor in opposition to the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, passed by voters in 2008.

Bakk’s bill would require a super majority or three-fifth vote for the Legislature to place amendments on the ballot.

It would also defer placement of the amendment on the ballot to the general election following the next general election.

    Tim Budig is at [email protected]