State Rep. Butch Wilkins' bill HB1402, to raise the minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.25 an hour failed by one vote in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee this morning. We couldn't hear the roll call, but Rep. David Meeks tweeted that the vote was 10 for to 5 against; 11 yea votes were needed.
Wilkins noted the wage hasn't been raised in seven years, a time when costs of fuel, food and utilities has significantly jumped, and won't for two years more if the bill fails; that people working full-time at the minimum wage are earning only $13,000 a year, below the federal poverty line if they have a spouse or a child to support; and that extra earnings would be returned to the economy because the new dollars would be spent. He cited studies that say the minimum wage has no detrimental impact on business or the economy, but acknowledged that there are studies that suggest otherwise.
Brett Kincaid of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Family testified that when parents have to work two jobs to support their families, the children suffer; he also asked that the lawmakers consider the increased pride and productivity the higher wage would encourage and the fact that there are bills under consideration to give small businesses tax breaks. Alan Hughes of the state AFL-CIO said he was there not on behalf of his union workers, who are paid more than the minimum wage, but their families and friends. "I've been at this table several times. Last time we heard the same stories about the pros and cons. But think back when it passed: Did you see all that happen on the bad side? The only thing new about this is you sitting at this table today."
Speaking against the bill were representatives from two groups that provide services to 1,100 disabled people, saying those would have to be cut back; Montine McNulty of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, who argued that businesses are fearful about what the new health care law will require of them; and Dan Greenberg, who called the pay raise "cruelty in the guise of compassion," arguing that history (1890-1930, for example) shows that businesses won't hire the undereducated — minorities and students — if they had to pay their workers more. (The bill provides for lower than the minimum for students.)
Rep. Greg Leding asked if anyone on the committee knew what the price of a gallon of milk was. None answered, but Kincaid did: $3.23, or about half of what Arkansas's minimum wage workers earn in an hour. Reps. Justin Harris and Meeks were the most vocal in disagreeing with those who spoke for the bill, insisting that it would hurt business owners and result in layoffs.
Wilkins said he expected to hear such arguments against the bill, but said the lawmakers need to show the working poor of the state some respect. He closed by saying he'd been told by a woman that she was working two jobs to feed her four children. "I asked her if her kids went hungry, and she said no, but she did."