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Gov. Tony Knowles introduced a bill today to raise the state minimum wage and tie future increases to inflation.
The measure would raise the minimum wage from $5.65 to $6.40 on Oct. 1 and to $7.15 a year later, adjusting annually to match inflation.
A state survey in late 1998 showed about 14,000 working Alaskans earned between $5.65 and $6.74 an hour. The largest portion, 32 percent, worked in restaurants and bars, and about 9 percent worked in amusement and recreation services.
Echoing his State of the State speech to lawmakers last week, Knowles said Alaska's minimum wage is the lowest on the West Coast.
"A single Alaskan parent working year-round at a minimum wage earns $11,752 a year. That's poverty-level wages," Knowles said at a news conference today.
The bill is similar to one introduced by Rep. Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican. Kott's bill would raise the minimum wage to $6.40 next year and to $6.90 in 2003, although he may amend the bill so wages increase to $7.15 in 2003, he said. Kott's bill would not tie the minimum wage to inflation, but he said he also may add that provision.
The president of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce has said members are still reviewing the proposals, but doubted the group would support tying the minimum wage to inflation.
Labor Commission Ed Flanagan said the impact on businesses would be minimal in terms of hourly wages.
"At the projected inflation rate, we're talking literally 10 or 12 cents a year increase," Flanagan said.
State union representative Jim Sampson said the AFL-CIO did a survey a couple years ago that showed nearly 80 percent of Alaskans polled supported raising the minimum wage. The union did the statewide poll as part of an effort to put an initiative on the 2000 ballot to raise the minimum wage to $6.50.
"It enjoyed public support in every geographical region of the state. It enjoyed overwhelming support by region, age, gender and irregardless of political party," Sampson said.
The initiative petition failed because the sponsors did not collect enough signatures by deadline, Sampson said.