by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
It is expected that minimum wage legislation approved on a voice vote by the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday will be brought up on the House floor on Friday.
The committee advanced a bill that will give 375,000 Minnesotans a pay increase, said House chief author Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. The wage bill would increase Minnesota’s floor wage in three steps until it reaches $9.50 an hour in 2015.
For large businesses, the bill sets rates at $8 beginning Aug. 1, 2013, $9 beginning Aug. 1, 2014 and $9.50 beginning Aug. 1, 2015. This legislation if passed into law will represent the first time Minnesota has raised its minimum wage since 2005.
Winkler said he is “pretty confident” that the DFL-led House will get a bill passed close to its current form. The state Senate is considering a smaller rate of increase, resulting in a final amount of $7.50. Minnesota’s current minimum wage is $6.15. Minnesota is one of only four states with a lower wage than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Many Minnesota employers pay their employees the $7.25 federal minimum wage rate.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said that he supports an eventual minimum wage at between $9 and $9.50. Winkler said it’s a good chance Dayton will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.
Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, believes the DFL-controlled House will pass the legislation forwarded it by the House Ways and Means Committee which debated the bill for more than two hours. Abeler, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, is very disturbed, however, with the complexion of the bill and spoke to his concerns early in the committee hearing.
A change in parental leave from six weeks to 12 weeks bothers Abeler. He also is displeased in the proposed change of the overtime payment threshold from 48 hours to 40 hours. Abeler explained that this legislation is very damaging to small business. Another concern of his is the lack of a tip differential. He said the server will get a wage increase but bus boys and dish washers will see no raise under the House legislation. The restaurant industry is supporting a two-tiered minimum wage that would allow restaurants to pay servers and waiters a lower base wage if they make $12 an hour after tips are considered.
In his comments before the committee, Abeler urged business and labor work together. An attempt was made to refer the bill to the agriculture committee, but it failed. The legislation will have a major effect on agriculture and small business, Abeler contends.
Minimum wage changes will benefit those people in the lower wage bracket who spend money more quickly for basic needs, Winkler said. This added wage will bring a boost to the economy, putting more money into the
the pockets of consumers.
The House legislation creates an inflationary adjustment of the minimum wage after it reaches $9.50.
Abeler, a 15-year veteran of the Minnesota Legislature, said “it’s always interesting” that major legislation is held to near the end of session and lawmakers often wonder how they are going to get things done. “I’m a collaborator,” Abeler admits, saying he wished the party in charge would have approached him in helping shape the wage language. He said he worked on the insurance exchange and believes it got “a little” better.
Abeler has two small businesses and says he understands the costs involved, buying supplies and paying payroll.
Opponents of the minimum wage legislation have said that it will increase labor costs and eliminate jobs. Winkler said there is no evidence that this happens.
Winkler has been busy working on education legislation, too, creating early childhood scholarships. “It is a challenge because Republicans are not eager to spend money on a new project and others are leery it may look like vouchers, so it has been a balancing act,” Winkler said.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected]