Election 2014: Minimum Wage on the Ballot

In the absence of federal action on the issue, efforts to increase the minimum wage are on the ballot—and expected to pass—in five states on November 4. Notably, four of the five states (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota) are solidly conservative.

But minimum wage proposals tend to be popular even in conservative states, University of Southern California economist John Matsusaka told the Associated Press, pointing out that all 10 of the statewide measures considered since 2000 have passed. In fact, "the popularity of the issue has put some Republican candidates in a difficult spot," the AP reported, forcing some right-wing candidates to voice their support for a traditionally progressive concern.

And the primary opposition line—that raising the wage will kill jobs—is being debunked in the 13 states that have raised their minimum wages to higher than the federal level. "There is no evidence of negative employment effects," write University of Delaware economists, Saul D. Hoffman and Wai-Kit (Ricky) Shum, "due to the increases in state minimum wages."

Additional Common Dreams coverage of the minimum wage issue can be found here.


ALASKA: Ballot Measure No. 3

The Basics:

Ballot Measure 3 seeks to increase the state's minimum wage from $7.75 per hour to $8.75 beginning January 1, 2015. It would be increased again on January 1, 2016, to $9.75 per hour and, from there on, be adjusted based on inflation or remain $1 higher than the federal minimum wage, whichever amount is greater. If the measure is approved, Alaska will have one of the highest minimum wages of any state in 2016 when the wage increases to $9.75 per hour.

Ballot Question:

This bill would raise Alaska’s minimum wage from $7.75 per hour to $8.75 per hour as of January 1, 2015. The bill would raise the minimum wage to $9.75 per hour as of January 1, 2016. The bill would adjust the minimum wage each year for inflation after 2016. The bill creates a method for this adjustment. Under the bill, if the adjusted minimum wage is less than one dollar over the federal minimum wage, Alaska’s minimum wage will be one dollar over the federal minimum. Tips or gratuities would not count toward the minimum wage. The bill has a statement of findings and declaration. This statement gives reasons for the bill. The reasons pertain to quality of life for low income workers, the effect of increases in the cost of living, the relationship of the Alaska minimum wage to the federal poverty level, and the minimum wage in other states.

Should this initiative become law?

Yes on 3:

  • Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage (AFMW) was founded in March of 2013 by three former Alaska state Labor Commissioners. The group calls Alaska’s current minimum wage “woefully inadequate.”
  • AFMW says the state's current "sub-par" wage forces taxpayers to make up the difference in the form of public assistance, and that 48,000 Alaskans would benefit from the proposed increase.
  • A long list of faith leaders and communities has endorsed the measure, which they say will stimulate the economy while "lifting many out of poverty."

No on 3:

  •  No formal opposition group exists, though the National Federation of Independent Business’s Alaska chapter, some members of seafood industry, and the state Chamber of Commerce are speaking out against the measure.
  • In fact, Alaska Public Media reports that the campaign director for AFMW has, at some debates, "had to help the organizers find someone, anyone to do the counterpoint."

Polling

 -Alaska: Measure #3-
DATE POLLSTER YES NO UNDECIDED
 9/18/2014 - 9/21/2014 Public Policy Polling 61%  33%  5%
         
         

ARKANSAS: Issue 5

The Basics:

The initiated state statute would increase the state’s minimum wage, which is currently below the federal wage floor, from $6.25 to $7.50 per hour on January 1, 2015; to $8 on January 1, 2016; and to $8.50 per hour on January 1, 2017. The measure made it onto the ballot after a similar bill failed to move forward in the state legislature. There was some controversy over the signature filing deadline.

Ballot Question:

An act to amend the Arkansas Code concerning the state minimum wage; the act would raise the current state minimum wage from six dollars and twenty-five cents ($6.25) per hour to seven dollars and fifty cents ($7.50) per hour on January 1, 2015, to eight dollars ($8.00) per hour on January 1, 2016, and to eight dollars and fifty cents ($8.50) per hour on January 1, 2017.

Yes on 5:

  • Supporters, who include include the state chapter of the NAACP, the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance, the Arkansas AFL-CIO, and U.S. Senator Mark Pryor (D-AK), have coalesced under the banner Give Arkansas a Raise Now (video).
  • A report (pdf) released in January by Arkansas Advocates for Families and Children found that more than 165,000 Arkansas workers, or 15 percent of the workforce, would benefit from increasing the minimum wage. Of those, 85 percent were over 20 years old and the majority worked full-time.
  • Both major-party Arkansas gubernatorial candidates support raising the minimum wage, though Democrat Mike Ross has said Republican Asa Hutchinson “was against the ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas before he was for it.”

No on 5:

  • Opponents, including the Arkansas Hospitality Association and the state Chamber of Commerce, say the initiative would be a job-killer.

Polling

-Arkansas: Issue #5-
DATE POLLSTER YES NO UNDECIDED
 10/15/2014-10/16/2014 Talk Business Research & Hendrix College 69% 26% 5%
4/3/2014 - 4/4/2014 Talk Business Research & Hendrix College 79% 17% 4%
         

ILLINOIS: Minimum Wage Increase Question

The Basics:

This is a non-binding advisory question, ostensibly meant to demonstrate voter support for a minimum wage hike—though opponents (and even some supporters) describe it as a way to entice left-leaning voters to the polls on November 4. The Democrat-controlled Illinois Legislature voted to put the question in the ballot along party lines with the likely intent, if it passes, of going back to the General Assembly next session carrying evidence of the measure’s support.

Ballot Question:

Shall the minimum wage in Illinois for adults over the age of 18 be raised to $10 per hour by January 1, 2015?

Yes on Increase Question:

  • Organizations that support the ballot question include the Illinois Federation of Teachers; Service Employees International Union (SEIU), AFL-CIO, and other labor groups, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
  • When he signed the legislation needed for the measure to appear on the ballot, Democratic Governor Pat Quinn said: “This November, Illinois voters will have the opportunity to send a clear signal to lawmakers that we must have an economy that works for everyone. Raising the minimum wage will benefit hundreds of thousands of hardworking men and women across our state. Higher wages for employees means they will spend more at local businesses, which in turns boosts economic growth.”
  • Despite the fact that the measure is non-binding, groups have raised more than $2.6 million in support as of late-October.

No on Increase Question:

  • According to CBS Chicago, at a debate in mid-October, Quinn’s Republican opponent Bruce Rauner said “he’d prefer the national minimum wage be raised, so that Illinois is on an even playing field with other states. But under questioning from Levine, the Republican said he would support a state wage hike in exchange for “pro-business reforms” that include changes in worker’s compensation laws.”
  • "Let me interpret this for you,” Sen. Kyle McCarter, a Republican, told the Belleville News-Democrat in May. “The Dems are loading the ballot with referendums that mean nothing, just so they can get their traditional supporters out to the polls to vote for them, so they can protect their power, position, and pension. Only in Illinois."

Polling

-Illinois: Yes to Increase Wage-
DATE POLLSTER YES NO UNDECIDED
 9/3/2014 - 9/12/2014 Chicago Tribune 69% 27% 5% (no opinion)
         
         

NEBRASKA: Initiative 425

The Basics:

At the beginning of 2014, State Senator Jeremy Nordquist introduced a bill to incrementally raise the hourly wage to $9 by January 1, 2017. The measure was defeated when it fell five votes short of clearing the first round of debate (with one opponent claiming the defeat was "a victory for free-market capitalism”). Almost immediately, Nordquist indicated that he would try to get the measure onto the ballot. In July, proponents submitted 134,899 signatures; just 80,386 were required for the initiative to be certified.

Ballot Question:

A vote “FOR” will amend the Nebraska statute establishing a minimum wage rate for employees to increase the current state minimum wage from seven dollars and twenty-five cents ($7.25) per hour to eight dollars ($8.00) per hour on January 1, 2015, and to nine dollars ($9.00) per hour on January 1, 2016.

A vote “AGAINST” will not cause the Nebraska statute establishing a minimum wage rate for employees to be amended in such manner.

Shall the Nebraska statute establishing a minimum wage rate for employees be amended to increase the current state minimum wage from seven dollars and twenty-five cents ($7.25) per hour to eight dollars ($8.00) per hour on January 1, 2015, and to nine dollars ($9.00) per hour on January 1, 2016?

Yes on 425:

  • Nebraskans for Better Wages is the campaign organization launched by state senator Jeremy Nordquist to support the ballot initiative. The group says an estimated 143,000 low-paid workers in Nebraska—nearly one out of every six workers in the state—would receive a raise if the minimum wage were increased to $9.00 per hour, the majority of whom are over 20 years old and work more than 20 hours per week. They also claim a wage hike would generate more than $73.9 million in new economic activity and support the creation of over 400 new full-time jobs as businesses expand to meet increased consumer demand.
  • Supporting organizations, which include labor unions, the Nebraska State Education Association, Voices for Children in Nebraska, and the Center for Rural Affairs, say raising the minimum wage is a crucial part of rebuilding Nebraska’s middle class. 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chuck Hassebrook is also in support.
  • The Lincoln Journal Star editorialized on October 19 in favor of the initiative, writing: "The benefit of giving those workers a raise outweighs the possible negative impact. Fears of negative economic impacts have proved exaggerated in the past when the minimum wage was increased. The working poor in Nebraska deserve a break. Vote to raise the minimum wage."
  • Nebraskans for Better Wages has raised $1,217,543 in support of the initiative as of late-October. Ballotpedia reports that FieldWorks, a campaign consultant business specializing in ballot initiatives, was hired by proponents for nearly $250,000.

No on 425:

  • While there is no organized opposition to Initiative 425, Republican Governor Dave Heineman, and 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate and frontrunner Pete Ricketts (Heineman is term-limited from running this year) both oppose the measure.
  • In July 2014, Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom issued a statement claiming that if the measure passes: “Retailers will reduce staff and replace humans with machines, reduce fringe benefits like health insurance, and restrict personal and sick leave options. To cut costs, employers will allow fewer breaks and amenities like free coffee and snacks.” The group argues that increasing the minimum wage reduces job opportunities for low-income workers and leads to a decline in living standards.
  • Jim Partington, Executive Director of the Nebraska Restaurant Association, said Initiative 425 would have a “serious adverse impact on those industries that are labor intensive and employ large numbers of entry level and part-time workers,” such as food service. “The restaurant industry has a very low profit margin per employee and, as labor costs rise, will respond by delaying new hires, finding ways to increase productivity of existing staff, automating processes when feasible and menu prices will increase,” he said.

Polling

-Nebraksa: Inititiave #425-
DATE POLLSTER YES NO UNDECIDED
         
         
         

SOUTH DAKOTA: Initiated Measure 18

The Basics:

Supporters, led by the state Democratic Party and the South Dakota AFL-CIO, were able to gather the required 15,855 valid signatures to get this initiated measure on the November ballot. The measure would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $8.50 per hour beginning January 1, 2015, and it would guarantee an increase in the minimum wage each year to account for inflation. Additionally, the measure would set tipped employees' wage at half that of the minimum wage, raising their hourly pay from $2.13 to $4.25.

Ballot Question:

The initiated measure amends state law to raise South Dakota's hourly minimum wage for non-tipped employees from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour, effective January 1, 2015. Thereafter, this minimum wage will be annually adjusted by any increase in the cost of living. The cost of living increase is measured by the change in the Consumer Price Index published by the U.S. Department of Labor. In no case may the minimum wage be decreased.

In addition, the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees will be half the minimum wage for non-tipped employees as adjusted by any cost of living increase described above.

These increases would apply to all employers in South Dakota, with limited exceptions.

Yes on 18:

  • According to the South Dakota Democratic Party, which co-sponsored the initiative petition, 62,000 working South Dakotans will see an increase in earnings if Initiated Measure 18 passes, 78 percent of them over the age of 20, and 55 percent of them women.
  • In the Argus Leader, Mark Anderson, president of the South Dakota AFL-CIO, argued: “South Dakota’s one of the lowest-wage states in the country. We’ve made every attempt we could possibly do to make it friendly for businesses. Now I think it’s time we make it friendly for workers. And this is a good start.”
  • In a September 2014 report, the nonpartisan South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute concluded that about one out of six (17.3%) employed South Dakotans would see wage increases if the measure passes, the majority of whom have completed high school or college. The report showed that one out of seven (13.8%) children in South Dakota will have at least one parent who is affected by the increase, and that among affected workers with children, their wages are the sole source of income 24% of the time.

No on 18:

  • The measure is opposed by South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard, a Republican. “The governor believes the free market and supply and demand drive wages up,” Daugaard spokeswoman Kelsey Webb told the Aberdeen News. “He is also concerned about the provision (in Initiative Measure 18) that would require an automatic increase every year.”
  • The South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other business groups also oppose the wage hike. At a Yankton Chamber forum on October 21, South Dakota Retailers Association executive director Shawn Lyons said: "Minimum wage is an entry-level wage for workers who are looking to get into the job market and gain experience to move up into better jobs. According to information we have researched, the average CEO level in a small business in South Dakota’s average pay is only around $30,000. They are taking home less so they can pass on the wages to their employees and keep costs low for their customers. You can’t make the statement that minimum wage has to be a living wage."
  • Opponents have seized on the South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute report’s conclusion that South Dakota could lose 357 jobs due to the increase.

Polling

-South Dakota: Measure #18-
DATE POLLSTER YES NO UNDECIDED
 10/20/2014 - 10/23/2014  The Argus Leader and KELO-TV 58% 36% 6%
 10/1/2014 - 10/5/2014 Survey South Dakota 61% 22% 17%