The Law @ Work

MA State Senate Passes Increase to Minimum Wage – Ballot Initiative Also Pending

by David W. McBride

Back in September we blogged about Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s approval of a proposed ballot question to increase the state minimum wage to $10.50.  The proposal required 68,911 voters’ signatures by December 4th in order to be considered for placement on a future ballot.  The group “Raise Up” reported that it easily surpassed that amount, so the ballot question initiative route to a higher minimum wage is currently on track.

In addition to the voter-driven ballot initiative, the Massachusetts Senate voted in mid-November to raise the current $8.00/hour state minimum wage by $1.00/hour every July 1 until reaching $11.00/hour in 2016.  The vote passed 32-7, and the Massachusetts House of Representatives will consider the bill as early as January 2014 according to Speaker Robert DeLeo.  Other provisions of the bill include further increases pegged to changes in the regional consumer price index, a requirement that the Massachusetts minimum wage always be at least $0.50/hour higher than the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25/hour), and an increase to the minimum wage of tipped employees (currently $2.63/hour, would increase to half of the minimum wage for non-tipped employees).

The impact of a minimum wage increase is far from certain but many parties have already weighed in with their predictions.  Business groups and employer associations have spoken out against raising the minimum wage, citing a concern that a higher minimum wage would force employers to cut employee benefits, increase the market cost to consumers, force layoffs, and hurt small businesses that are barely making a profit under the current minimum wage.  Detractors also want any increase in the minimum wage to be combined with unemployment insurance reform which would offset the negative impact of a higher minimum wage on employers.

Proponents of the increase argue that a higher minimum wage is necessary for many workers to make a living and would actually help the economy by increasing the amount of disposable income.  Estimates are that hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts workers would be affected by an increase, and pro-labor groups note that a higher minimum wage would make workers less dependent on government assistance, reducing the cost to taxpayers.  Supporters are also quick to point out that the current federal minimum wage has fallen behind inflation and that if it should be $10.40 to bring it back to the purchasing power of the 1960’s.

Even if the House doesn’t go forward with the Senate bill, the success of the ballot initiative ensures that a minimum wage increase will have a path to appearing as a question on some future ballot.  The debate over the effects of an increase to the minimum wage will heat up again once the House begins debate on the bill in 2014, so stay tuned for future updates.

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