Lawmakers call for minimum wage hike

Posted: Wednesday, April 08, 2009

JUNEAU - A group of Democratic legislators on Tuesday called for a hike in Alaska's minimum wage before the end of session.

The state minimum wage of $7.15 per hour hasn't been changed since 2003, when Gov. Frank Murkowski pushed a law to stop automatic annual minumum wage increases. The annual adjustment had been required by a 2002 citizen's initiative that passed into law.

Democrats have pushed for minimum wage reform since 2007, and voted against the Murkowski-led 2003 wage freeze. This year, Anchorage Reps. Pete Petersen, Les Gara and Max Gruenberg filed House Bill 125 to raise Alaska's minimum wage and provide inflation proofing for the state's minimum wage workers. Senate minimum wage reform legislation passed the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

"With the highest fuel prices in the nation, hard-working Alaskans cannot wait for another year for the Legislature to take action," Petersen said.

House Bill 125 would raise Alaska's minimum wage to $7.85 in 2010, $8.60 in 2011 and $9.45 in 2012. It also requires, like the 2002 initiative, that Alaska's wage remain at least $1 an hour higher than the federal minimum wage. The Senate proposal would require the Alaska wage to be 50 cents higher than the federal minimum wage, or $7.75 an hour by this summer. That would bring Alaska's wage closer to the West Coast average of $8 an hour.

"We would like to end the session with a major accomplishment that makes life better for Alaska's working families," said Rep. Les Gara.

"Raising the minimum wage not only affords dignity and a basic living wage for many workers, but it also raises all boats," Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, said. "By raising the base by even this small amount you'll see wage improvement at all levels of the workforce."

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