Bill to raise minimum wage fails
By Matt Houston / Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The Senate Finance Committee, buttressed by challenged warnings that any required increase would cost jobs, killed a bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $8 in 2018, and to $8.50 in 2019.
Washington, D.C. and 28 other states have a minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $7.25. Only three have a lower employment rate than Louisiana, according to Louisiana Budget Project Director Jan Moller. States must at least match the federal minimum.
“At the end of the day, the best feeling a person can have is caring for themselves,” Carter said. “A better-paid employee benefits Louisiana.”
Debate on Senate Bill 153 by state Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, ended with a 7-3 along party lines. Most Republicans argued businesses will make up for the increased expense by eliminating low-wage jobs or raising the cost of products.
“Instead of trying to raise the wage that could drive jobs away, we should be focusing on our economy,” state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said. “If you raise the minimum wage, you might be jeopardizing those very jobs that earn that $7.25.”
State Sen. Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport, attempted to attach an amendment to the bill that would have put the measure before the voters in October. However, Louisiana does not have a referendum process, so residents can only vote on Constitutional amendments. The amendment was not attached.
“The only time we try and let the people decide is when we as a Legislature don’t want to take a stand,” said state Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, who supported the bill and the amendment and said most Louisianans would vote in favor of the wage increase if it appeared on ballots.
“There is something fundamentally wrong when a minimum wage hotel worker can’t afford to sleep in the same bed he made last night,” he said. “It doesn’t take an economist to figure out what the right thing to do is.”
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, argued that neither the government, nor the people, should tell business owners what to pay their employers.
“The people’s choice is to seek a job that fits their need.”
Carter retorted, saying the government already regulates wages and does not create any new precedent, it just “builds on what’s already there by a meager dollar and a quarter.”
About 85,000 Louisianans would have received a pay raise had Carter’s bill passed, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Carter said 78 percent of Louisianans believe the minimum wage should be higher.
“It’s hard to believe we don’t want to pay people right,” Tarver said. “If this dollar hurts the businessman, he shouldn’t have been in business anyway. Let’s help the little man because we always help the big boys.”
Louisiana Association for Business and Industry Vice President Jim Patterson said raising the minimum wage would create “upward pressure,” forcing businesses to seek worker alternatives, like robotics. He also said employers would seek to hire more qualified workers, in lieu of hiring less educated workers.
“The least educated and the least skilled would be adversely affected by this legislation,” Patterson said.
State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, stressed education’s role in alleviating Louisiana’s poverty problem, drawing nods of agreement from the committee and some responses regarding potential budget cuts to the system.
“The old adage of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ — What if you don’t have any boots?” Carter asked. “We’ve cut education so much. We’re blocking certain people from going to school.
“We need to show people that we don’t live in these ivory towers where we’re sanitized from the issues our community deals with. I’m going to take this bill up every year until it gets done.”
Committee members voting against a raise in the minimum wage were state Sens. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, Bret Allain, R-Franklin, Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge.
Members voting for the raise were state Sens. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport, Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.