State Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) will introduce a bill in the 2014 legislative session that would pose a Minnesota constitutional amendment question to establish a $10 minimum wage permanently attached to the rate of inflation.
The ballot question that would be posed to voters in the Anzelc bill is this:
Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to establish a minimum wage at a rate of at least $10 per hour that is increased each year by the rate of inflation?
So, the Anzelc bill, should it pass the House and Senate, would ask voters to set the minimum wage at $10 in 2015, with automatic increases attached to inflation starting in 2016. The method of calculating inflation would be attached to the annual implicit price deflator rate prepared each year by the U.S. Department of Commerce for use by local governments and municipalities. Earlier this month in the same election that saw Republican Gov. Chris Christie re-elected in a landslide, New Jersey voters approved a similar measure with a wage set at $8.25.
Anzelc said the reason for using the constitutional amendment approach is because the traditional legislative process is slow to respond to changing economic conditions, something that has left low wage earners living at or under the poverty line despite working full time. Though many believe some kind of minimum wage increase could pass the legislature anyway, Anzelc believes that providing a consistent, annually adjusted minimum wage to all working Minnesotans is something that rises to the importance of a constitutional amendment.
“There are too many families in my district where the mother and father are both working, they’ve got two kids, and they’re just not making it,” said Anzelc. “This is creating all kinds of difficulties with parenting, with communities, with our children’s future.”
Anzelc represents State House District 5B, including Grand Rapids, parts of the western Iron Range and parts of rural Itasca and Cass counties.
“The Dow is at 16,000, but a small percentage of people are benefiting from that. What about the people who work hard? If you work full time you should be able to have housing and a way to get to work,” he said.
The Anzelc bill won’t be the only minimum wage option on the table for the legislature in 2014, but it is the most dramatic idea to date: Gone would be the training wage, the tip credit, and the need to muster votes and draw the ire of business groups every few years for an increase. If successful, and approved by voters in what would be a wild campaign, Minnesota would establish a permanent minimum wage attached to inflation.
I wrote about the minimum wage debate last month. I had never considered the idea of putting this to the voters as a constitutional amendment until I talked to Tom. My initial reaction is that I like the policy, but as I’ve previously stated I’m not a fan of enshrining policy decisions into the constitution unless strong cause is demonstrated. I voted no on the Legacy Amendment. I voted no on the one man/one woman marriage amendment. I voted no on the voter ID amendment. Anzelc’s argument is that we are facing an economic crisis for young people and low wage earners that must be addressed in the form of a constitutional amendment.
Here are my thoughts. In 1998 I was 18 and worked my way through college at minimum wage. My primary expenses were owning a car, fueling that car and paying its insurance (I lived in the dorms on my financial aid and later mooched off my young wife in her apartment). At the time minimum wage was $5.15 an hour, though it might have been $5.45 or something when I got done. Gas cost about $1.15 a gallon when I started college, about $1.35 when I finished. I had some college debt which I was able to pay off quickly working for $25-$30K during my early 20s.
It’s been 15 years now and the cost of everything has more than doubled. If I were 18 now and made minimum wage, A) I couldn’t afford to drive to college after I got married the way I did, B) Insuring the vehicle would have been harder, C) even getting a used car might have been cost prohibitive without financial help from a family member, which was not an option for me when I was a kid, D) I would have had much more debt, E) Food and utilities are more expensive. And we didn’t have kids until later. And neither of us got sick. (Actually, despite Obamacare’s criticisms, the only thing that would have been better for me now compared to then is my ability to buy health insurance).
This is the reality facing young people now. This is the reality facing my students at the college and several of my relatives on the Iron Range. How can a prosperous nation not raise the floor for its working class, at minimum to encourage working instead of mooching off the system? My family lived at the poverty line for much of my childhood. We could have been on food stamps and welfare if dad worked just a little less than he did. But he didn’t do that. He worked. I worked. Why are we not rewarding this with a living wage?
How the Anzelc bill and the constitutional amendment question is received is yet to be determined. But one can imagine the arguments playing out. Why should people in the shrinking middle class and growing lower class vote against a minimum wage increase tied to the actual costs of the things they need? Because company owners threaten them with layoffs. But what if the minimum wage bill passed and employment held, because hiring is a function of demand, not just cost? What if things just … got better for poor people?
This bill has a chance, but more importantly it will certainly impact the minimum wage debate. Anzelc has already signed on several House co-sponsors and will sign on more. He is shopping the bill in the Senate and expects to have a companion bill there as well. He is hoping to have this established by Friday.
Yesterday, I wrote how Gov. Mark Dayton is hoping for a short, limited session with an agreeable bonding bill and a few reforms. I think minimum wage will be the one big controversy that gets tackled before the 2014 midterm elections. And, perhaps, it will only be settled in those very elections.
DISCLOSURE: Tom Anzelc is a personal friend, a fellow Balsam Township resident, and I’ve run his legislative campaigns. He’s been working on this bill for months and I have talked to him about it. He told me he will be announcing the bill this week and I asked if I could share it here first. I did not write the bill or influence the bill, but I was in on several conversations about the matter.
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