Miss. House OKs bill to increase state minimum wage

Published 7:45 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dottie Goodwin doesn’t care if it’s the state or the federal government that raises minimum wage, just as long as someone increases the base pay for everyone.

The 42-year-old convenience store clerk in Jackson makes more than minimum wage herself, and she often wonders how anyone could survive on anything less.

A person working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year at the current minimum wage would make $10,712 a year.

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“I’m surprised there’s not more homeless people than what it is, with the cost of living being what it is,” Goodwin said.

The state House on Tuesday approved a bill that would set a state minimum wage that’s 40 percent higher than the national base of $5.15 an hour.

Supporters of the bill say their efforts on the state level might be erased if the new Democratic-controlled Congress, as expected, passes a bill to increase the federal minimum.

The state bill would set the Mississippi minimum wage at $6.25 an hour on July 1 and $7.25 an hour on Jan. 15, 2008.

“We should never sell ourselves as cheap labor again,” said Rep. Ricky Cummings, D-Iuka, one of the bill’s primary sponsors.

There is an exception: Students, regardless of age, could still be paid the federal minimum, if that figure remains lower.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour opposes the bill, as do several business groups.

Prospects for the state election-year proposal appear dim. The bill moves to the Senate, which is generally considered friendlier to business groups.

The House vote to pass the bill Tuesday was 68-50, significantly lower than the 82 votes that would be needed for a two-thirds margin to override a governor’s veto with all 122 House members present.

Neither supporters nor opponents had information about how many Mississippians are working for minimum wage.

Rep. Joey Hudson, D-Monticello, persuaded the House to leave a lower base pay for students, saying that an increase “is going to put a burden on a lot of our mom and pop businesses.”

Rep. Erik Fleming, D-Clinton, said some teenagers are the primary bread winners in their homes.

“We should not discriminate against younger people in this process,” Fleming said.

Several business lobbying groups are lining up against the proposal, including the MEC, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

“Raising the minimum wage rate seems, on the surface, to be a remedy for increasing working wages, but the best solution is to provide adequate working training, creating higher-skilled workers who will be positioned to earn higher wages in the marketplace,” said Jay Moon, chief executive officer of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association.

Barbour told an audience of more than 1,000 business people last week that a state minimum wage increase could drive jobs to other states.

“Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee must be laughing up their sleeves at the idea that Mississippi would do that,” said Barbour, who, like most lawmakers, is seeking re-election this year.

Cummings said the lobbyists trying to kill the bill are “dressed in $3,000 suits, the $500 alligator shoes and the diamond-studded cufflinks.”

“You can choose the Capitol Street gang and vote with them. They’ll pat you on the back and they’ll tell you what a great job you’ve done, but you won’t feel good about it, I guarantee,” Cummings told his House colleagues. “On this question right here, you don’t have to ask what Jesus would do because it’s already been answered.”

Lawmakers in several other states, including Kentucky and Nebraska, are pushing for state minimum wage increases this year.

The Republican who was then governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, signed a state minimum wage increase into law in 2006. On Oct. 1, the minimum wage there increased to $6.25 an hour. Huckabee is term-limited and left office Tuesday.

Arizona, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania raised their minimum wage with the new year, some going as high as $7.50 an hour.

The bill is House Bill 237.