By Don Davis
Supporters of raising the state minimum wage say a bill senators passed Wednesday would boost 357,000 Minnesotans’ pay.
The measure that passed 35-31 would raise the wage floor to $9.50 an hour at large businesses in three years. The Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass the bill as early as today, and Gov. Mark Dayton says he supports it.
“We are taking the stance that we are going to support the bottom line of the poorest people,” said Sen. Chris Eaton, D-Brooklyn Center.
Republicans argued that raising the wage will lead to job losses and maybe businesses closing.
“I don’t think it puts us in the economic position we want to be in …” said Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. “We are a global economy and we have to start looking at that.”
Joining Republicans in voting against the bill were Democratic Sens. Lyle Koenen of Clara City, Dan Sparks of Austin and Vicki Jensen of Owatonna. Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, was excused from the Senate for the day.
The current state minimum wage is $6.15 an hour, but most Minnesota employers fall under the federal wage of $7.25. Businesses would have to follow a higher state wage if it is enacted.
Dahms offered an amendment to put the state wage at the $7.25 federal level. It was defeated.
The new wage would be phased in over three years, with employers showing gross sales of at least $500,000 annually paying $8 starting this August, $8.50 in 2015 and $9.50 in 2016.
Smaller firms would be required to pay $6.50 this year, $7.25 next year and $7.75 in 2016.
Businesses could pay teen workers at the same rate as small business.
Wages would increase to match inflation beginning in 2018, but no more than 2.5 percent a year. The state labor commissioner could suspend the increase in bad economic times.
Republicans said higher wages especially would hurt businesses near other states, which all would pay less than required in the Minnesota bill.
“This is going to hurt our rural communities along the borders,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd.
Gazelka asked Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, if that bothered him.
Eken replied: “I believe that the minimum wage will create and generate more economic activity.”
People who get higher pay, he said, will “put more money back into the local economy.”
Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said the state frequently has enacted laws that put border businesses at a disadvantage to other states.
“How many prices can you raise?” he asked, indicating that businesses in his area will have to boost prices to fund higher wages.
Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, called the bill “a big step forward.”
“Every sixth household with children at some time during the month does not have enough food,” Marty said.
A new KSTP-SurveyUSA poll showed that 61 percent of Minnesotans approve of a higher minimum wage and 49 percent liked the idea of automatically raising the wage to keep up with inflation.