A group of Minnesota lawmakers will try to live on a minimum wage budget for a week, as they push the state to raise that wage to $9.50 an hour.
Five House Democrats signed on for this year's Minimum Wage Challenge, which limits them to a budget of $5 a day for food and $9 a day for transportation. One day in, members were already eyeing fast food dollar menus for lunch and opting for bus rides over gas mileage to work. The Legislature is expected to resume its ongoing debate over the minimum wage hike after it returns to work Feb. 25.
State Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who authored the minimum wage legislation said the goal of the challenge "is to highlight to Minnesotans the challenge that low-wage workers and minimum-wage workers have in making ends meet in an economy that is producing far too many low-wage jobs, far too few living-wage jobs and is asking millions of people nationwide and hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans to work full time and live in poverty."
The minimum wage bill stalled in the Legislature last session. Opponents fear that raising the wage will force businesses to downsize or cut back on hiring if salaries become too unaffordable.
"We're ready to go," Winkler said. "Our goal is to pass a bill to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015 in the first two weeks of session."
Meanwhile, his colleagues are finding the minimum wage challenge, challenging. This year's participants are: Reps. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis; Frank Hornstein; DFL-Minneapolis; John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul; Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia; and Shannon Savick, DFL-Wells.
Hornstein, chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee, rode the bus to the Capitol Tuesday.
"It gives me a little bit more money for food," he said. "This is a very important experience for me personally but I hope that it will help us pass a minimum wage bill this session."
State lawmakers earn $31,140 a year -- or about $14.97 an hour for their part-time work at the Legislature. One week of scrimping couldn't replicate the experiences of actually living on a minimum wage paycheck, but challenge participants said it gave them a better understanding of the challenges some of their neighbors face. For an outstate lawmaker like Savick, that means worrying about whether her new $9-a-day travel budget will stretch to cover the cost of commuting to work at the Capitol.
"I can live on what they set for food. I don't eat a lot," she said. "But down in Faribault County, where I come from, if you don't have a car, you don't go anywhere, because there is no public transportation. Driving will cost more than what they're allowing me."