3 ex labor commissioners back wage increase

JUNEAU — Three former state labor commissioners are behind an effort aimed at raising Alaska’s minimum wage.

Ed Flanagan, Tom Cashen and Jim Sampson are behind a proposed initiative to raise the minimum wage from the current $7.75 an hour to $8.75 an hour effective Jan. 1, 2015. It would go to $9.75 an hour a year later and be adjusted for inflation annually after that.

Flanagan said Monday that it is “well past time” the state adjust its minimum wage.

“It’s a floor, and it needs to be raised periodically,” he said.

The proposed initiative includes language stating that Alaskans working full-time at the current minimum wage “earn far below the federal poverty level for a family of three.” It also notes that California, Oregon and Washington — other West Coast states — have higher minimum wages than Alaska.

In 2002, the Legislature pre-empted a proposed initiative by passing a measure to raise the minimum wage and allow it to be adjusted for inflation. The measure also said the minimum wage should be either the most recent wage adjusted for inflation or $1 more than the federal minimum wage, whichever was greater. The Legislature can pre-empt initiatives that qualify for the ballot by passing substantially similar legislation.

A year after passing the bill, however, lawmakers stripped the inflation adjustment requirement and reference to the minimum wage being $1 higher than the federal level.

In 2009, the Legislature passed a measure stating that, beginning in 2010, the minimum wage had to be at least 50 cents more than the federal minimum wage. That’s where it stands currently.

The Division of Elections is reviewing the application for the proposed initiative. If it is accepted, organizers will have until January, before the next legislative session starts, to gather the more than 30,000 signatures required to qualify the measure for the ballot.

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