The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 27, 2014

Auto-hikes to wage could go on ballot

Sen. Tom Bakk says other states have put issue to vote

ST. PAUL — Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk proposed Thursday giving voters power to decide whether Minnesota's minimum wage climbs automatically.

A constitutional amendment that he and another prominent senator, Ann Rest of New Hope, put in play would ask voters this fall if the wage should be linked to inflation. Bakk said he worries that a legislatively adopted minimum-wage indexing feature could be susceptible to repeal later. He said 10 of 11 states with an automatic inflator have accomplished that through a referendum of some kind.

"The constitution is intended to protect the rights of the minority. These low-wage workers are a minority of Minnesotans. This gives them some protection that their wages would keep up with inflation," said Bakk, a retired carpenter from Cook. "It meets my test that this is important enough that it belongs in the constitution."

Although he has pushed this year to make it harder for measures to reach the ballot, Bakk said he wouldn't hesitate to proceed even if it's a party-line vote. "The choice for Republicans is: Put it in statute or do you want the voters to decide?" he said.

The proposal adds to a long-running debate about what to do after hiking the wage. There appears to be sufficient support to gradually raise a current $6.15 per hour minimum to $9.50 by 2016. Minnesota's minimum wage last rose in 2005.

House negotiators say there needs to be an automatic inflator to keep minimum wage earners from losing ground. Senators haven't embraced that approach. In public comments on the issue, Gov. Mark Dayton has been partial to the House plan.

Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, the chief House negotiator, said he's not in favor of "punting to voters."

"The constitution is a place to structure how government works to protects rights," Winkler said. "It is not a place to pass policy."

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