House OKs minimum-wage hike

Posted: Sunday, March 03, 2002

A bill to raise Alaska's minimum wage to $7.15 an hour next year passed the state House on Friday.

Representatives voted 33-6 for the increase, although some Republican representatives said they would have preferred a different version of the bill.

The measure would bump the minimum from the current $5.65 an hour to $7.15 starting Jan. 1, 2003. It calls for automatic future increases equal to inflation or $1 above the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater.

Rep. Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican, said he supports raising the minimum wage, but he didn't like the version that wound up on the House floor. He said it will raise the cost of doing business and could hurt the economy.

"I believe this is entirely detrimental to the business community and the formation of capital in the state of Alaska," Rokeberg said. "I am very, very worried that we'll lose more jobs."

He objected to indexing future increases to inflation, saying it is impossible to foresee the future business climate. He also wanted to see a "tip credit" in the bill, which would have let businesses pay workers who receive tips less than other employees.

Introduced last year by Rep. Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican, House Bill 56 initially called for raising the wage to $6.40 an hour in 2002, then $6.90 in 2003. It did not provide automatic hikes for inflation.

The bill got bogged down last year over disagreement about whether to include a tip credit.

Labor activists, frustrated by the slow progress, decided to bypass the Legislature. They collected enough signatures to put their own, more generous, version of a minimum wage increase on the ballot this fall.

To keep the measure off the ballot, lawmakers must pass a "substantially similar" bill. The House did that Wednesday with an amended version of Kott's bill that is identical to the initiative.

Labor leaders say they believe Republicans didn't want the measure on the ballot because they feared it would draw more liberal voters to the polls.

Kott said he didn't believe that would make much difference, and that wasn't the primary reason for passing the bill.

"It was a good idea a year ago and I still think it's a good idea," Kott said.

Alaska's minimum wage is the lowest on the West Coast, he said.

"I believe working for a minimum wage in Alaska should not represent a minimum quality of life," Kott said.

He said he had seen no convincing research that raising minimum wages has a direct negative impact on the economy. He added that Washington state also has automatic increases for inflation in its minimum wage law, and has had a strong economy.

And, he told legislators, it's better that the wage increase pass through a bill than through a ballot initiative.

That way, if legislators decide to change the inflation provision, they can do so next year, Kott said. If the change were made through a ballot initiative, they'd have to wait two years.

Those voting against the bill were Republican Reps. Con Bunde of Anchorage, Jeannette James and John Coghill of North Pole, Vic Kohring of Wasilla, Bev Masek of Willow, and Rokeberg.

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to have the wage increase take effect 90 days after the bill becomes law, rather than Jan. 1.

The bill now goes to the Senate.



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