Minn. Senators OK $6.15 Minimum Wage

Gov. has pledged to sign what opponents call feel-good bill

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota's minimum wage workers can look forward to a $1 raise in August, the first such increase in the state's rate in eight years, the Associated Press said.

The state Senate approved increasing the wage to $6.15, with some exceptions for the state's smallest businesses, by a 44 to 22 vote. The state House already has approved the bill, and Governor Tim Pawlenty has pledged to sign it.

$6.15 is still a bare-bones increase, said Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL). But, she added, any increase was good. This means [image-nocss] good news for thousands of Minnesota workers and families, she said. This means that the people who clean out the bed pans in the nursing homes, the people who make the beds in the hotels, the people who serve us eggs and coffee in the cafe that they are going to get a strong message from us in the Legislature that we value their work.

The increase is about half the size of one the DFL-led Senate previously approved. They passed a bill to hike it to $7 an hour in two steps over two years. But Anderson said she had to compromise to get support from Pawlenty and the Republican-controlled House.

The final bill would have a lower minimum wage for businesses with less than $625,000 in gross sales. They would pay $5.25 an hour, up from the current $4.90.

Pawlenty said he looked forward to signing the bill. It's not the be-all and the end-all, Pawlenty said. It's meant to be a floor, so that people have at least a decent wage no matter what job they're in.

About 49,000 Minnesotansabout 2% of the work forceearn the minimum wage, according to a February study by the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry. Of those, 37% got additional compensation such as overtime, tips or commissions, the study found. Supporters of a bumped-up wage floor say another 60,000 to 70,000 Minnesotans make a dollar or less above minimum wage.

Anderson said the minimum wage would be closer to $8.50 an hour if it had kept up with inflation.

State Senator Dave Kleis (R) described the measure as a feel-good bill. He said the market should dictate wages, not government, and the increase puts Minnesota out of line with its neighbors. All bordering states use the federal minimum. This is the wrong thing to do, Kleis said. It's bad for job creation in this state. It's bad for the economy.

Anderson replied: This isn't feel-good. This is do-good.

Pawlenty and some Republicans wanted to create a lower minimum wage for waiters and waitresses who earn extra money from tips. Most of the states bordering Minnesota, have this so-called tip credit, and lawmakers from some border communities said it hurts efforts to operate successful restaurants in cities such as East Grand Forks and Winona.

If you live in a border city with Wisconsin...in this bill you are essentially exporting jobs to Wisconsin, said State Sen. Bob Kierlin (R).

Anderson said adding a tip provision would have been a deal-breaker for Democrats. Pawlenty said he hopes the issue can be reconsidered next year.

At least a dozen states have a higher hourly minimum wage than the federal requirement of $5.15. In Alaska, Oregon and Washington, it tops $7.

For years, DFL lawmakers tried and failed to raise the state's minimum wage. Anderson attributed this year's success to the Democratic gain of 13 seats in the House in last November's election.