4 States Voting on Minimum Wage Hikes

Huffington Post 10/31/2014

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress may be in no mood to hike the minimum wage, but four conservative-leaning states are poised to do it on their own next week.

Initiatives to raise the minimum wage appear on the ballot in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota on Tuesday. Alaska, Arkansas and South Dakota all have Republican-controlled legislatures, and Nebraska is solidly red despite the official lack of party affiliation in its statehouse.

Recent polls have shown strong support for each of these ballot initiatives. That should come as no surprise. The idea of hiking the wage floor tends to receive bipartisan backing among Americans, with around two-thirds of voters saying they favor such proposals in most surveys.

“We’re expecting them all to go through,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, an attorney with the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, which advocates for a higher minimum wage. “I would be shocked if it didn’t go through in any of the states.”

If the ballot measures pass, they will mark a milestone of sorts for the minimum wage.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia currently have their own minimum wage set higher than the federal level of $7.25 per hour, and Maryland and Hawaii will soon join them thanks to laws passed earlier this year. Of the four states weighing proposals next week, three of them — Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — have their wage floors set at just $7.25.

If all four ballot measures make it through, a majority of states will have effectively determined that the federal minimum wage set by Congress is too low. They would include large swaths of the U.S. where the cost of living is generally lower than average — a common argument among conservatives against raising the federal wage floor.

Alaska’s measure would hike the state’s minimum wage from $7.75 to $9.75 by 2016. Arkansas’ minimum wage would go to $8.50 by 2017, Nebraska’s to $9 by 2016, and South Dakota’s to $8.50 by next year. The measures in Alaska and South Dakota would also tie the minimum wage to an inflation index, so that the wage floor would rise with the cost of living. Ten states have already indexed their minimum wages.

Illinois also has a minimum wage measure on the ballot Tuesday, though it’s nonbinding and merely allows voters to send a message to state lawmakers.

The last time the country saw so many minimum-wage ballot initiatives in a midterm election was 2006, when there were six — in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio. The fate of those measures bodes well for the backers of this year’s initiatives: Every one of them passed.

Democrats in Congress have proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and tying it to inflation, a measure backed by President Barack Obama. House Republicans have so far refused to give the bill a vote, however, and Senate Democrats haven’t managed to round up enough votes to overcome a GOP filibuster. If Republicans win control of the Senate next week, the prospects of a federal minimum wage hike anytime soon will become even dimmer.

Given the gridlock in Washington, the president has urged cities and states to bypass Congress and raise their own minimum wages.

“To every mayor, governor and state legislator in America, I say, ‘You don’t have to wait for Congress to act,'” Obama said in his State of the Union speech in January. “Americans will support you if you take this on.”

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