Congress’ inaction on the $7.25 hourly minimum wage played out on state ballots, with voters in four states considering an increase and another considering wages for the youngest workers.
The proposals in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington came two years after voters in five states passed minimum-wage hikes. South Dakota voters took a second crack at wages, two years after raising them to $8.50 an hour.
Was it a slam dunk that this year’s measures would pass? Maybe. Even the classic foes of a higher minimum wage — restaurant associations and small-business groups — ran muted opposition campaigns.
“It almost always passes when it gets on the ballot,” said Jerold Waltman, a political scientist at Baylor University.
“Most Americans have a fundamental sense of fairness, that if you work, you ought to make enough to make a living wage on. Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on this,” he said.
Arizona, Colorado and Maine considered phased-in $12 hourly minimum wages by 2020. In Washington state, where the minimum wage is $9.47 an hour, voters considered a higher minimum wage, $13.50 an hour by 2020.
Voters in South Dakota were looking at the minimum wage for the second time in as many years. They considered a so-called “referred law” to overturn a state law passed in reaction to a 2014 vote raising the minimum to $8.50, with the wage pegged to inflation.
South Dakota lawmakers lowered the minimum wage to $7.50 for workers under 18, with no inflation adjustment for the youngest workers. The ballot measure asked voters to choose between keeping lawmakers’ approach to younger workers, or requiring higher wages for all working teens.
Opponents disputed how the measures were worded. In Colorado and Washington, they argued that minimum wages should be lower in rural areas. In Maine, opponents focused on the gradual repeal of a law permitting an employer to take a tip credit toward its minimum wage obligation.