By Don Davis
A coalition of children’s groups, religious organizations and unions say Minnesota’s poor would benefit from a higher minimum wage, more state child care support and a tax credit for parents.
Key in a proposal released Wednesday is raising the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour from the current $6.15. Minnesota is one of four states with minimum wages lower than the federal $7.25 level.
“What we are trying to do here is to put some buying power in people’s pockets,” Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said as he and other lawmakers unveiled the three-prong proposal.
The announcement came hours after President Barack Obama used his State of the Union speech to promote raising the federal minimum wage to $9.
“Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour,” Obama said Tuesday night. “This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank, rent or eviction, scraping by or finally getting ahead.”
The federal minimum wage law applies to most businesses, but some are governed by state law.
If lawmakers approve the $9.50 wage, it would top Washington state’s $9.19, now highest in the country.
The bill Tomassoni and Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, introduced is one of several to increase the minimum wage filed by Democrats, who control the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time in more than two decades.
One bill would raise the wage to $9.38 this year and automatically increase it after that. Another bill would raise it to $7.50, and also allow it to rise after that.
Obama’s minimum wage proposal also includes an automatic increase.
Gov. Mark Dayton said that he has not decided how much of an increase is needed, but he strongly supports a higher wage.
“The minimum wage ought to be a living wage,” Dayton said, adding that “$9 is a good place to start.”
“We cannot keep underpaying people,” he said.
The Tomassoni-Hortman bill would require large employers to pay $9.50 an hour, but smaller businesses would have an $8.25 requirement, with employees still being trained to be paid at least $7.50.
The bill also would give parents a $100-per-child tax credit and add to state contributions for child care that low-income families receive.
“These three things work together,” said Brian Rusche of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition.
Supporters did not know how much the Tomassoni-Hortman bill would cost state taxpayers or how much more tax revenue the state could receive from the higher wages.
Alexandria Fitzsimmons of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota said studies have shown that increasing a family’s income by $1,000 annually helps children learn better in school.
“Their homes, their schools, their playgrounds are filled with stress,” Fitzsimmons said, and higher incomes help reduce the stress.
Hortman said the bill could help 100,000 Minnesotans get above the federal poverty level.
Fitzsimmons said 450,000 Minnesota tax returns would get the new tax credit.
Tomassoni acknowledged that business owners will oppose the bill. Business leaders say that raising the minimum wage means other wages also would rise, which could lead to layoffs and higher consumer prices.