DFL senators want the public to vote on minimum-wage inflation factor

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Sen. Ann Rest presents her minimum wage constitutional amendment proposal on Friday.

This is one in a series of articles funded by a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation.

Democratic lawmakers in control of the Senate introduced a new wrinkle into the state’s minimum-wage debate this week, proposing to take the contentious question of indexing the wage to inflation out of the political arena and put it in the hands of voters this fall.

In a surprise move, DFL Sen. Ann Rest and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk signed their names on a constitutional amendment this week that would ask voters if the state’s minimum wage should be raised from the current $6.15 per hour to $9.50 by 2015 and indexed to inflation starting in January 2017. 

Early in the session, both chambers agreed on a $9.50 per hour level, but the constitutional amendment was introduced just as the minimum-wage conference committee again stalled on an offer to deal with concerns over indexing the wage. 

“What has become the sticking point is the issue of inflation,” Rest told the Senate Committee on Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Friday morning. “Senator Bakk and I have been having any number of conversations about tax issues, but in all of those conversations we always seem to come back to talking about progress or the lack of progress on the issue of inflation in the conference committee on minimum wage.

“We are offering this path as an opportunity to break that logjam,” she continued.

Rest said 10 of the 11 states that index the minimum wage to inflation have achieved that through voter-approved measures. The proposal moved out of the Senate committee, despite unanimous opposition from both business groups and labor unions.

House Democrats also have rejected the move to put the minimum-wage issue to voters, even though DFL Rep. Tom Anzelc originally introduced the proposal earlier this year.

“I don’t really take it very seriously,” said DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler, the author of the House minimum wage bill. “Members of the House are up for re-election this year. I don’t think that we believe that not doing our job and giving that issue to the public is something that is going to help us win an election. I think the voters understandably reject that idea and expect us to do the work.”

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton opposes the move, too. Any amendment needs just a simple majority to bypass his signature and go on the ballot. Democrats have been queasy about doing constitutional amendments, however, since Republicans put the gay marriage ban and the photo ID requirement on the ballot in 2012. Dayton said the issue should be settled by the Legislature.

Minimum Wage: Too low or too costly?“I cannot prevent it, “Dayton said, “but I’m hopeful, and I’ll do my utmost to persuade seriously that there should not be one.”

Earlier in the week, the House made a second offer to raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation using the so-called “implicit price deflator” versus the Consumer Price Index, which is a lower measure of indexing.

But senators say they don’t have the 34 votes needed to pass any bill that indexes the wage to inflation. Last year, senators passed a minimum wage of $7.75. They say moving up to $9.50 was a huge concession for members.  

Rest acknowledged that the turmoil was within the Democratic legislative leadership, but she said sometimes issues are so “volatile” that it’s not unseemly to put it to the public to decide. Senators did the same last session when they approved a constititional amendment in 2016 to ask voters if an independent council should determine what lawmakers are paid.

“This might be our only path forward,” DFL Sen. Matt Schmit, a freshman from Red Wing, said in committee Friday. “We have to be open to that path.”

Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Joel Fischer on 03/28/2014 - 01:26 pm.

    Legislating by Constitutional Amendment

    The DFL should learn from the GOP’s mistakes here.

    I think a better Constitutional Amendment would be to force the legislature to adjust the minimum wage every so often. Every 3 years? 5 years? But make the legislators do the work.

  2. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 03/28/2014 - 02:04 pm.

    Great idea if…

    We just get rid of the whole d**n legislature and have everyone vote on every issue. This amendment crap was stupid when Republicans wanted to do it with the marriage amendment and it’s just as stupid with this issue. The state constitution should be left to broader, fundamental issue.

    No new chapter in “Profiles in Courage” for those 2.

  3. Submitted by Tim Milner on 03/28/2014 - 02:26 pm.

    Yes please

    put this issue on the ballot.

    Right next to the ballot to approve the new Senate building.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/28/2014 - 02:35 pm.

    Abdication

    Minnesota state Senators should look up “abdication” in the Senate dictionary. This is a responsibility they were specifically elected to carry out, and failure to do so, which is what they’re proposing, is an abdication of their duties and responsibilities as elected officials. I hope the Governor and the Minnesota House figuratively crucify the Senators who vote for this shameful proposal.

    Making the indexing of the minimum wage a ballot issue does not – in any way – make it less contentious or less political. It merely adds expense to the fall election, guarantees that additional substantial sums of money will be spent – unnecessarily – by both sides, and sets an example for political cowardice that will follow them (I hope) through the rest of their careers.

    Suck it up, Senators. Take a stand, vote it up or down, and be prepared to take heat for your position no matter what it might be. It goes with the territory, or at least it SHOULD go with the territory, and to fall back on that hoary cliché, if you can’t stand that heat, get out of the legislative kitchen. If you’re so out of touch with your constituents that you don’t know how they feel about this issue, it’s merely one more reason why you should consider another line of work and leave the legislature.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/28/2014 - 03:30 pm.

    Counting on the low-information voters

    to come through for them again. The people in this state have a history, when asked, of allowing government to collect and spend more of other people’s money.

    In 2008, 56% of the voters approved an amendment “To protect natural resources and preserve Minnesota’s arts and cultural heritage by increasing the sales and use tax rate beginning July 1, 2009, by three-eights of one percent on taxable sales until the year 2034.”

    It essentially created a slush fund for lawmakers to spend on ambiguous purposes in order to “preserve Minnesota’s arts and cultural heritage” which could, as has, meant anything. So the democrats have history on their side and they know it.

  6. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/28/2014 - 04:13 pm.

    Wrong Ballot Question

    The new Senate office building should be put on the ballot, not the minimum wage. It just amazes me that they can’t find the votes to pass the most popular issue in the country (raising the minimum wage) but they’ll got to the mat over the glitzy office building. We haven’t seen such boneheaded-ness since Karl Rove’s fall 2006 prediction of a GOP landslide that November.

    They’ll risk the House turning over to the GOP fall over the office building. Instead, they could give DFL-leaning voters (who don’t turn out well) a reason to show up in an off-year election.

    Both of these issues are no-brainers.

  7. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/28/2014 - 05:16 pm.

    Complex issues

    do not belong on a ballot. It’s really that simple.

  8. Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/28/2014 - 05:44 pm.

    Agree with everyone.

    Do your job.

  9. Submitted by Cameron Parkhurst on 03/28/2014 - 07:26 pm.

    Dumbest idea ever

    Count me as a no vote for this constitutional amendment even though I agree in general with the idea of raising the minimum wage.

  10. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/28/2014 - 08:22 pm.

    Another side

    As a part of this debate, I want readers to notice one very significant thing. In the middle of this page, there is a banner which reads: “A Multi-Part Minnpost Series – Minimum Wage – Too Low or Too Costly.” If you click on that banner, you will be taken to the Minnpost Feature page devoted to this topic. Now please check carefully: Among 18 pieces that make up that series there is not a single one (unless I missed it) which opposes a minimum wage increase. There are several pieces that may be considered just news stories but most of the pieces clearly support the increase. So the question is: Where is the “too costly” part of the series? Is this what we want in Minnpost?

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/29/2014 - 12:16 am.

      If you object to the content provided

      Feel free to create a competitive alternative. That would be the free market approach, no? Barring that, kindly refrain from the “shoot the messenger” wing of trollery, thanks.

  11. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/28/2014 - 08:50 pm.

    Isn’t Sen. Bakk

    The one who wants it much harder to get amendments to the Constitution on the ballot in the first place?

  12. Submitted by Amy Farland on 03/29/2014 - 07:30 am.

    what the constitutional amendment REALLY does

    What Bakk and friends suggest would have the effect of enshrining poverty into our State Constitution for all time and killing any opportunity for Minnesotans down the road to consider and enact living wage proposals. People, the US is the ONLY developed Western country that has a minimum wage that equals poverty and current proposals of $9.50 per hour do NOT eliminate poverty. This proposal would make poverty a necessary part of our society and effectively acts against the purported intent of the legislative efforts which is to raise people out of poverty. The only ones who benefit from the Senate’s proposal at this point is big business and they will walk away laughing hysterically if this passes.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/29/2014 - 09:16 am.

      Nonsense

      Any true capitalist would argue that in a free market, the minimum wage should be zero. Wages paid for labor provided should be tied to the value of that labor and nothing else.

      So are you suggesting that Big Business are not really capitalists? I happen to think most Fortune 500 companies are actually socialists, but I’m sure you would disagree.

      • Submitted by Amy Farland on 03/29/2014 - 10:35 am.

        reply

        HIstorically, our governments have always stepped in to rein in excesses of the free market — to right the ship so to speak. Both parties have done this. It was never controversial until now. And the same is true of the minimum wage legislation. Your position is not historically supported; it is radical and way outside the mainstream.

        • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/31/2014 - 09:33 am.

          What’s outside of the mainstream

          or at least should be, is the attempt to raise the cost of unskilled labor when the unemployment rate for the unskilled, inexperienced and/or minority youth is well over 20%.

          If we didn’t know better (I think) one could assume that those pushing this automatic increase are actually trying to hurt those at the bottom of society even further by making it even more difficult for them to find employment of any kind.

  13. Submitted by Amy Farland on 03/29/2014 - 08:32 am.

    Lest we Forget

    http://www.epi.org/publication/ib368-basic-family-budgets/ can we please for once recognize reality?

    it is estimated that the minimum salary for a US family of 4 to live “a modest but adequate lifestyle is somewhere in the neighborhood of $47,000”. Compare this to Bakk’s proposed ‘permanent’ solution.

  14. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/29/2014 - 09:24 am.

    minimum wage

    Enough already. Don’t leave this session without a minimum wage increase. Raise the minimum wage just a little higher, to 9.75 and vote it up or down. Or if necessary, move it to 9.50 without the indexing and be done with it and accomplish other things. Raising the wage is a minor victory and should be taken advantage of during the democratic majorities. Minimum wage increase is healthy for the state and contrary to republican claims it partners with our robust economy and ATTRACTS business because the wages paid here are closer to livable (across the board of course, minimum wage is not) and contribute to consumer vigor. Do you want to sell a product in Alabama, where the average household income is closer to poverty for each individual or do you want to sell a product where salary and wage levels are higher and people have money to spend? This really is not much of a debate.

  15. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 03/29/2014 - 02:05 pm.

    Think decent wage for a change ?

    What a sick joke…Minimum wage suggested is not even a living wage and all this fuss over recognizing the need for minimal survival wages among a growing number of underpaid in a wealthy state .eh?

    Either recognize a minimal attempt at a decent wage which is not even offered here but a minimal, minimum wage…and as far as a new senate building…how about build temporary housing structured so they that can be recycled for the homeless when no longer needed as temporary housing for the senators?

  16. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/29/2014 - 03:00 pm.

    Alternative

    I did create an alternative – here: http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2014/03/minimum-wage-increase-unnecessary. I do not object to the content – I object to the one-sided selection of content for a particular debate in a publication which is “non-partisan.” Don’t we all want to see the alternative points of view especially if the title suggests that there is one?

  17. Submitted by Grace McGarvie on 03/29/2014 - 07:09 pm.

    get to work with the $

    #1- do not send money back to the tax payers
    #2- pass the min. wage bill with inflation protection
    #3- fix our roads and bridges
    #4- fund our schools with a maximum of 25 kids in a classroom guaranteed
    #5- establish a rainy day fund
    #6-Build an office building so each rep.& sen. has a small office (equal to the present offices in size) forget the amenities – no gyms.
    Do this work and do not mess with our constitution or ask voters to approve or disapprove of what you do. We will do that at the next election. That’s our work as citizens. Your work is to set priorities and fund them.

  18. Submitted by Shar Fortunak on 03/29/2014 - 07:20 pm.

    Minimum wage

    Raise the minimum wage, now–not later.

  19. Submitted by Arnie Hillmann on 04/01/2014 - 05:25 pm.

    Minimum Wage

    How disgusting that our legislators can’t even make decisions that we hire them to handle!

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