ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Democratic split on the minimum wage showed Wednesday as the Minnesota Senate backed a bill that calls for a smaller proposed increase and without some side benefits contained in the House-approved version.
Negotiators from the two chambers have less than two weeks to find a sweet spot between the phased-in $7.75 per hour rate in the Senate plan and the eventual $9.50 hourly minimum in the House bill. That House proposal also calls for annual increases in years to come that are tied to inflation, an escalator that isn't in the Senate's bill.
Ahead of the 39-28 party-line vote, sponsoring Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, acknowledged she would have trouble winning approval for a rate much above the one in her bill.
Minnesota's minimum wage last rose in 2005, when it went to $6.15. Since then, the federal standard has catapult past Minnesota's rate and currently sits at $7.25 per hour. Many but not all minimum-wage workers in the state qualify for the federal minimum.
More than 93,000 people are considered minimum wage workers, but more would be affected because they earn less than the eventual wage floor.
Democrats insisted that the state's wage is so low that it comes with hidden cost. Some are on public assistance programs and most make so little they don't pay income taxes.
"Minnesotans believe someone who is working 40 hours a week ought to be making enough to take care of their basic needs," said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. "They ought not be living in poverty."
Republicans were adamant that any increase will cost jobs as businesses look to contain their payrolls.
"It's another bill with false hope and false promises," charged Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes. "This is a poverty bill. People aren't going anywhere with this."
The Senate's bill includes three jumps, bringing the wage to $7.25 this year, $7.50 next year and $7.75 in 2015. The House version, approved on a largely party-line vote, has three larger steps until reaching $9.50 in 2015.
Put another way, a minimum wage worker with a 40-hour week could expect to earn $16,120 before taxes if the Senate position prevailed; it would be $19,760 a year by 2015 in the House plan.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, the sponsor of the House bill, said settling for a minimum wage below $8 would only take the pressure off to do more in future years.
"If it's less than $8 an hour, I wouldn't do it. If it's between 8 and 9, that depends. And if it's above 9, it's a clear yes," said Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.
Of the 45 states with their own minimum wage, Minnesota now ranks in the bottom four. The House version would put Minnesota at or toward the top.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he prefers raising the rate above $9, but declined to say he would veto something less.
"Something is better than nothing but I would be very disappointed," Dayton told reporters ahead of the Senate action, adding, "I want work to pay — pay off for the family and pay for our society. That means someone working full-time needs to make enough money to bring them up to the poverty level."
The House bill also would permit people to take 12 weeks in unpaid parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a child — double the six-week limit now in place. That language isn't part of the Senate proposal.