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Minimum wage hike to become law on Monday; Obama commends the move

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: April 10, 2014 - 5:45 PM

A Minnesota minimum wage increase is nearly law, as the state follows other states controlled by Democrats in offering lowest wage workers a boost.

The final House vote of 71-60 delivers the measure to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who says he will happy to sign it into law, and brings to an end a multiyear debate among Democrats about the wage floor. President Obama issued a statement commending the Legislature for its move.

"I commend the state legislature for raising their minimum wage and we look forward to Governor Dayton signing the bill into law soon," President Obama said in a statement. "Congress should listen to the majority of Americans who say it’s time to give America a raise and help ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty."

Dayton will sign the measure into law on Monday.

Many business groups have greeted the Minnesota's coming wage jump with dismay, saying it will force them to raise prices or cut back on employees.

In 2016, when the measure is fully phased in, most Minnesota businesses would have to pay workers at least $9.50 an hour. Minnesota currently mandates most businesses pay employees at least $6.15 an hour, one of the lowest states in the nation and below the federal standard of $7.25 an hour.

"Find it in your heart to put a couple of extra dollars in the pocket of poor people in your districts," Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, pleaded with his colleagues.

The big jump in the state's wage standard comes against a backdrop of states moving to raise the wages of their lowest pay workers, alongside federal inaction.

While President Obama has campaigned to raise the federal standard to $10.10 an hour, few believe he will be successful. Meanwhile, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia and D.C. have raised their wage minimums this year. By the time Minnesota's minimum wage boost is fully phased in, only a handful of states are slated have higher state standards.

According to state figures, about 350,000 Minnesota workers earn less than $9.50 an hour.

On the House floor, Republicans took to their feet to decry the wage hike.

"I do support the minimum wage increase, too, but I believe it has to be a little bit more moderate than what we have now," said Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlain. "To me this is too much too fast."

The impasse between the DFL House and Senate over minimum wage broke in recent days, after DFL senators agreed to allow future increases in the wage to be linked to inflation.

The final measure makes that link so that the wage will rise as costs go up. The law would cap those increases at 2.5 percent, or about a quarter an hour for the first bump. During a significant economic downturn, the state could halt the automatic increase for a year.

The breakthrough came just after the House approved plans for a new senate office building. Repeatedly on Thursday, Republicans connected the two.

"What in the world were you thinking of to make this deal?" said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings.

Earlier this week, when asked, House Speaker Paul Thissen and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk denied that there was a specific deal to connect the two but acknowledged that both were on their session agendas.

On the House floor, Rep. Ryan Winkler, a Golden Valley Democrat who shepherded the wage measure for two years, said the building is not the crux of the issue.

"This is about doing the right thing for Minnesota workers," Winkler said.

Updated with President Obama's statement.

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