Minnesota's business and labor communities, at odds over a proposed increase in the state's minimum wage and the question of whether future hikes should be automatic, found common ground Friday against a proposal by Senate Democrats to put the question to voters in November.
"We're here to oppose legislating through the Constitution. We've already elected people to support us," Ben Gerber, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, told a Senate panel.
"The constitution is not for giving specific guidelines to businesses in Minnesota," said Jennifer Schaubach, legislative director at the Minnesota AFL-CIO.
Other business and labor lobbyists, faith leaders and progressive activists and a low-wage worker spoke one after another against the constitutional amendment offered by Senate Democrats. If it were to land on the November ballot, voters would decide whether future increases in the state's minimum wage should automatically rise with inflation.
Despite the wide array of opposition, the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee approved the amendment on a split vote Friday. Democrats who hold the committee majority said it could be a way to break a stalemate with House Democrats on the minimum wage proposal.
The bill has been a top DFL priority this session, but has been bogged down for months by differences between the two chambers. House and Senate negotiators have agreed on an increase in the state minimum wage from $6.15 an hour to $9.50, but House Democrats want to include the inflation index. That measure lacks support from Senate Democrats, who now suggest voters should make the call instead.
"What this bill does today is open a new chapter," said Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing. "This may be our only path forward, and we have to be open to that path."
Republicans on the committee called the amendment, which is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a political stunt. Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Paul Thissen, also Democrats, both said Friday they disagree with pursuing a constitutional amendment on the issue.
"This shows a failure of leadership," said Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. He said it would be a message from Democrats that they don't view a minimum wage increase as urgent as many of their allies claim.
The proposal now heads to the Senate Rules Committee, which Bakk chairs.