By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. – Surrounded by about 100 boxes filled with the signatures of nearly 135,000 Nebraskans who want to vote on increasing the state’s minimum wage, supporters of a wage hike called their successful seven-week ballot initiative a “historic victory” and “turning point in Nebraska politics.”
MINIMUM WAGE: Proponents of raising the minimum wage say more Nebraska families would be self-sufficient.
They only needed 81,000 signatures — or 5 percent of registered voters — and at least 5 percent of those signatures must come from each of 38 counties. The extra signatures are a cushion in case some aren’t validated by the Nebraska Secretary of State and county officials.
Former Congressman John Cavanaugh said the citizen-drive initiative represented a “whole new coalition of Nebraskans” interested in justice and fairness.
“What this effort represents today is truly a new Nebraska,” he said. “We all know that this is a turning point in Nebraska politics.”
Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, D-Omaha, said called the petition drive a “huge victory for families.”
“The message is clear: Nebraskans are working hard, but that hard work just isn’t paying,” he said during a press conference at the state capitol.
Nebraskans for Better Wages began gathering signatures in mid-May in support of a vote on whether to bump the minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $8 an hour by 2015 and $9 by 2016. Hundreds of paid circulators and 300 volunteer circulators collected signatures from all 93 Nebraska counties, they said.
Earlier this year, Nordquist introduced a bill that would have increased the minimum wage to $9 over three years, but it fell five votes short. Nebraska’s minimum wage hasn’t increased since 2009.
Nordquist said a wage hike would help people like Sonja, a waitress who sometimes works two jobs or seven days a week but still can’t make ends meet. He called that an injustice and said a wage bump would help get families off government support and grow the economy.
“No Nebraskan who works hard should feel like they’re drowning in our economy,” he said.
A poll earlier this year found 60 percent of Nebraskans support raising the minimum wage. But the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and conservative Platte Institute oppose a wage hike.
Dick Clark, director of research for the Platte Institute, said Monday increasing the price of a business inputs increases costs for businesses, especially those operating on thin margins, and could lead to hiring freezes, business closures, delayed business startups, more automation and replacement of low-skilled workers.
Sen. Danielle Conrad, D-Lincoln, said Nebraskans across “every demographic imaginable” responded favorably to the petition. She talked about people she met while gathering signatures who are struggling to make it on minimum.
“This is the reality that too many of our friends and neighbors are experiencing,” she said. “This is a day of celebration. This is a unifying effort.”
Conrad said the strong petition drive gives her side a good head start to win in November in what she called easily understood “kitchen table economics.”
“We achieved the unbelievable in less than seven weeks,” Conrad said. “The fall campaign begins today.”
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