Governors Embrace Push for Higher State Minimum Wages

Across the country last week several governors used their State of the State addresses to lay out plans for significant, phased-in increases in their states’ minimum wages.

In New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that the minimum wage will be raised to $15 for the state university system’s workers, matching plans already adopted for fast food workers and state government employees, the governor made his campaign for a statewide $15 minimum wage by 2021 the centerpiece of his annual address to state lawmakers.

“There is an unhealthy income inequality gap that is only growing,” Cuomo declared, urging the legislature to adopt his plan and make New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage.

“I say lift up the poor and the working families of this state and pay a real decent wage that honors F.D.R.’s original intent and promise. We can raise the minimum wage to $15 and we can show this nation what real economic justice means.”

“Now, my $15 proposal is reasonable,” Cuomo continued.  “And it is phased in over an amount of time to allow our economy to grow and to adjust to expand the number of people participating in that success. It’s only fair and it’s only right — listen to this — if the minimum wage in the 70s, had been indexed to the rate of inflation you know where it would be? My proposal today at $15 an hour. What that means is that the minimum wage since the 70s has not kept pace.”

In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown (D) laid out a plan to raise the statewide minimum wage in stages to $13.50 per hour by 2022, with a higher rate for the Portland area projected to hit $15.52. The plan would also continue Oregon’s indexing provision where the minimum wage is adjusted upward in years when a key cost of living measure increases. The minimum wage in Oregon is currently $9.25.

A coalition led by the group 15 Now Oregon last year filed a petition for a 2016 ballot initiative that would raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 by 2019. Organizers have been engaged in an aggressive signature gathering effort, and the group expects to be on track to collect the 88,184 valid signatures required by July to put the measure on the November ballot.

In the State of Washington, Governor Jay Inslee (D) announced his endorsement of a statewide ballot initiative filed by the coalition Raise Up Washington that would increase the state minimum wage, currently $9.47 per hour, to $13.50 by 2020. The proposed ballot measure would also provide up to seven paid sick days per year for workers who do not already have those days of sick leave coverage. At least 246,372 valid voter signatures are required by July 8 in order to qualify for the November ballot.

In Louisiana, newly elected Governor John Bel Edwards (D) was sworn in last week and called for a “meaningful increase to the minimum wage” in his inaugural address at the capitol in Baton Rouge. That would be a first for Louisiana, which is one of five states with no state minimum wage law at all. Louisiana employers are only required to pay workers covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act the federal minimum wage of $7.25 – a rate that has not increased since 2009. Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South.

In Maine, meanwhile, faced with staunch opposition to any state or local minimum wage increases from Governor Paul LePage (R), a coalition of labor and progressive groups last week filed 75,000 verified signatures for a 2016 ballot initiative – more than the required 61,123 signatures — to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020. The measure would increase the statewide minimum wage, currently $7.50 per hour, to $9 in 2017 and raise it by an additional $1 in each of the next three years. If Maine’s Secretary of State certifies the ballot initiative and the legislature votes to reject the plan, it will be put to the voters on the November ballot.

The push for higher minimum wages by governors in New York, Oregon, Washington and Louisiana is in stark contrast to pronouncements by two recently elected Republican governors.   In December, newly elected Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin rescinded his Democratic predecessor Steve Beshear’s order raising the minimum wage for state employees and contractors to $10.10, pushing it back down to $7.25. And just last week, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey publicly threatened to shut off state revenue sharing funds to any city or county that moved to enact a higher local minimum wage.

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About the Author

Mitchell Hirsch

Areas of expertise:
  • Living Wage & Minimum Wage,
  • Unemployment Insurance

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