Democratic candidate for governor Tim Walz declared his support for an increase in the state minimum wage to $15 on Wednesday, after initially seeming to backtrack from that support.
At a news conference with a group of mayors, Walz, a southern Minnesota congressman, called the $15 pledge “aspirational,” then declined to say specifically what increase he thinks is immediately appropriate.
“That kind of short circuits the way I build coalitions,” Walz said. “We have not had that general conversation. We have not built it together.”
He added: “What I do know is we do need to have it.”
Later in the day, Walz reaffirmed his support with a tweet that said, “I support a $15 minimum wage. I voted for a $15 minimum wage in Congress, and would be proud to sign it into law if it came to my desk as Governor.”
Walz is running against Republican Jeff Johnson, a Republican Hennepin County Board member from Plymouth. Johnson does not support a $15 minimum wage and has also said he is opposed to the ability of Minnesota cities to implement their own minimum wages, as cities including Minneapolis and St. Paul pursue them.
Walz said he would listen to both workers and businesses to set a wage floor. He credited higher minimum wages with improving the lives of families.
“But,” he added, “we’ve also seen the passion of folks who say, ‘Hey, I wanna do the right thing here but here’s the economics of my business.’ I think its irresponsible at this point in time not to bring them together and have that conversation of where we land.”
The minimum wage has been a five-year battle both at the Legislature and in some city halls. A DFL-controlled Legislature increased the minimum wage in 2014. With an inflation adjustment approved by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, it will go up on Jan. 1 to $9.86 per hour for large employers, from $9.65 an hour; and $8.04 for smaller employers, up from $7.87 an hour.
Johnson told the Star Tribune on Wednesday that he is opposed to the yearly increase tied to inflation, but wouldn’t seek to repeal it. “While I oppose the automatic inflater, it’s current law and I won’t seek to roll it back,” Johnson said. That wouldn’t preclude Johnson from signing a repeal if Republicans hold their legislative majorities and initiate it.
Republican lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to prevent cities from setting their own wage and other labor standards, which is a major item on the political agenda of the business community, and has been the subject of litigation. The GOP also sought to allow restaurants and other businesses with tipped employees to pay a lower wage, but did not succeed.
Last year, the Minneapolis City Council approved a $15 minimum wage for the city, with an ordinance that will have larger businesses reach that level by 2022, and smaller businesses by 2024. The St. Paul City Council is expected to soon approve a $15 minimum wage under the plan, pushed by Mayor Melvin Carter, that also raises the wage in increments, with the smallest businesses not reaching that level until 2027.
Walz reiterated Tuesday that he opposes any attempt to prevent cities from setting their own minimum wage above the state floor, which is known at the Legislature as “pre-emption.” Walz said that he’s been struck by the different economic conditions in different parts of the state, particularly in the cost of housing.
Johnson said at a debate Sunday that different minimum wages in different cities place an undue regulatory burden on businesses operating in those cities.
This is not the first time Walz has been difficult to pin down on issues. He pledged during the Democratic primary to enact a single payer health care system modeled on Medicare, but now talks about it as a federal inevitability and not something he would pursue at the state level.
He has, however, consistently called for allowing all Minnesotans to buy into a state health insurance program for the working poor called MinnesotaCare.
As he shifted from congressional runs to his statewide bid, Walz also denounced the National Rifle Association after earlier courting its support, and said he regretted a vote he took in the House in favor of intensified screening for Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S.
Last year, Walz said Canadian energy company Enbridge should win the support of the state’s five largest Ojibwe bands before moving forward with its massive pipeline project, Line 3. Now he says he accepts a state ruling that the company can move forward, even though three Ojibwe bands remain opposed to the project.
Walz defended his penchant for adapting to changing conditions Tuesday.
“I’ve been very clear about this throughout this campaign and throughout my time in Congress, and in leadership — whether it be in the military or civilian life — the capacity to be able to adjust to situations and work with people,” he said.