Capping off a year-long negotiation between House and Senate Democrats, Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday afternoon signed legislation that will raise the state’s minimum wage to the eventual level of $9.50 an hour.
The signing ceremony, which was held before a packed crowd in the Capitol rotunda, had all the hallmarks of an election night celebration as Dayton and top DFL legislative leaders took turns at the dais to celebrate the state’s first such hike in nearly decade.
The governor made note of polls showing broad support for the measure, which he called “the right thing to do.”
“We’re not propelling anyone into the fourth tier of income tax level, we’re giving people enough to survive,” Dayton said. Even at the $9.50 rate, the governor noted, a full-time worker with a family of four will fall below the current federal poverty level.
Still, the new law fulfilled one of the governor’s top goals for the legislative session and will no doubt become a regular staple of his stump speeches as he hits the campaign trail. That was foreshadowed by a few pithy broadsides.
“I’ve already seen Republicans and some of their Chamber [of Commerce] allies saying, ‘Jobs are going to leave the state,’” said Dayton. In the course of his 38 year political career, he added, he’s heard similar complaints “whenever Democrats do something that helps people.”
“You know, I’m sort of surprised that after 38 years of that, there are any jobs left in the state,” Dayton said. “But the opposite is true. There are 155,000 more jobs in Minnesota today than when I took office three and a half years ago.”
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, called the increase “a big moment for Minnesota.”
Hayden, the chief sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, said the law represents “one of the strongest, most progressive minimum wage policies in the country.” Hayden also noted that the state’s current minimum wage of $6.15 an hour is among the lowest in the country.
“It’s a bright new day,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, the legislation’s chief sponsor in the House. Winkler called the law “the first chapter in a series of bills to raise economic justice to the forefront of Minnesota politics.” Specifically, Winkler mentioned hopes for future legislation governing paid sick leave and paid family leave.
Under a phased-in approach, the law bump ups the minimum wage to $8 an hour this August and $9 in August 2015. It also provides for automatic increases pegged to inflation.
That indexing, championed by Winkler in the House but resisted by his counterparts in the Senate, came with several critical caveats: One caps such hikes as 2.5 percent annually, while another authorizes the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry to freeze automatic increases during bad economic times.
Already, several leading Republican gubernatorial candidates have said they would tap that provision should they be elected.
In a prepared statement, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, called the wage hike a product of “political backroom dealing….that will take more money from Minnesota businesses and put thousands of Minnesotans out of work.”
Backers of the legislation say that approximately 350,000 workers will directly benefit from the wage increase.
Not all minimum wage workers will receive the $9.50 rate. Under the new law, the minimum wage paid by small employers – defined as businesses with less than $500,000 a year in gross revenue – will be bumped from the current $5.25 an hour to $7.75 an hour by 2016.
The law also allows for lower wages to be paid to teenagers and some foreign workers on visas.