Missouri minimum-wage hike unlikely to pass Legislature, but may make ballot


By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog

Amid President Obama’s call to raise the minimum wage nationally, Missouri is one of about 30 states considering an increase on the state level.

In a Republican-rich Missouri Legislature such efforts are likely to fail, but the measure may yet get a public vote through the petition process.

During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama urged Congress to hike the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 and said he would unilaterally sign an executive order increasing the wage to that amount for workers under new federal contracts.

Missouri now requires that employers pay their employees slightly more than the federal minimum rate — just a quarter more, at $7.50. The wage is indexed to inflation and just increased on Jan. 1 from $7.35 an hour. That’s the result of a voter-approved initiative in 2006 that calls for the annual increases.

ROORDA: Wants to increase the state’s minimum wage to $8.25 next year.

Democrats in the Legislature want to boost it to $8.25 next year.

Rep. Jeff Roorda’s HB 1098 would increase the minimum wage by 75 cents on Jan. 1, 2015, and require the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to annually change the minimum wage based on the increase or decrease in the cost of living calculated on the federal consumer price index beginning in 2016.

Roorda, a Barnhart Democrat, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that “public opinion on this is through the roof.”

Missouri Watchdog couldn’t reach Roorda for comment.

A Quinnipac University poll earlier this month found that 71 percent of voters surveyed nationwide support raising the minimum wage, including a slight majority of Republican respondents.

One third of those polled supported raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, while 18 percent said it should be increased to a lesser degree. Another 18 percent said it should be boosted to more than what Obama’s requesting.

On the flip side, half of the poll’s respondents said raising the minimum wage would likely lead to job cuts.

The nationwide poll surveyed 1,487 registered voters from Jan. 4-7. Interviewers call land lines and cell phones to ask their questions. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

David Stokes, a policy analyst for the pro-free market think tank Show-Me Institute, told Missouri Watchdog that minimum wage hikes invariably lead to higher unemployment.

“It’s going to hurt the very people it purports to help,” he said. “It’s going to decrease jobs at the entry level positions for the people who need them the most.”

MO MONEY, MO PROBLEMS? Policy experts believe increasing the minimum wage actually reduces employment opportunities for low-wage earners.

Stokes argues that the stereotype of the minimum-wage earner as a young person living at home is true — and that most heads of families don’t toil for such low pay. He said young people need those jobs to advance up the pay scale.

“That’s how they get job training,” Stokes said. “That’s how they build resumes.”

Tim Phelps, president of the Missouri Merchants and Manufacturers Association, told Missouri Watchdog the small businesses his group represents might have to cut back on salaries to pay higher minimums.

“If a small employer has a certain amount it can pay for wages there’s going to be less employment available or fewer hours available,” he said.

Gov. Jay Nixon didn’t mention hiking the minimum wage in his State of the State address last week, perhaps realizing the unemployment rate he likes to tout might go back up with a forced wage increase.

“Since I took office in January 2009, Missouri’s unemployment rate has dropped from 8.6 percent to 6.1 percent, and it’s been below the national average for 51 months,” he said to the joint session of the Missouri House and Senate.

An effort also is under way to put a statewide ballot measure before voters in November. Secretary of State Jason Kander has certified four petitions that seek to raise the minimum wage as high as $9.25.

That’s hardly a small grassroots effort. The petitions are being pushed by the St. Louis branch of the Washington, D.C.-based Jobs with Justice.

Local director Lara Granich didn’t return Missouri Watchdog’s phone call or email seeking comment.

Phelps said that while “there’s no way it will get through the bill process with the current makeup of the Legislature,” the minimum wage campaign could make it on the ballot with enough financial and public relations support.

“That’s how the current minimum wage got through,” he noted.

Contact Kampis at johnny@missouriwatchdog.org.

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