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Our View: Maximum politics on minimum wage

Becky Bohrer

 

 Do Democrats and others on the left want the minimum wage initiative to stay on the August primary ballot for political reasons? Sure do. Do they also want to increase the minimum wage for Alaskans? Absolutely. If there were nothing else at stake in August, would the initiative backers still be working hard to keep the issue on the ballot? Take it to the bank.

Do Republicans and others on the right want the minimum wage off the August primary ballot for political reasons? Sure do. Do they also want to increase the minimum wage for Alaskans? Some do, maybe. If the minimum wage initiative were not on the August ballot, would House Republicans have launched a late session drive to pass one? No.

Further, would House Republicans have launched a late session drive to pass the exact same legislation as the initiative, including an annual cost-of-living increase and the same phased in hikes, to $8.75 in 2015 and $9.75 in 2016?

If you're not laughing at that suggestion, KABATA has a bridge they'd like to sell you.

Yet House Republicans like Speaker Mike Chenault and Majority Leader Lance Pruitt would have us believe that late in the session they suddenly saw the wisdom of the initiative's minimum wage increase and now seek to help Alaska workers and spare us the August vote.

Rarely does a substantial raise include an insult to intelligence, but the House bill manages the trick.

Critics of the initiative supporters have accused Democrats and unions of bucking the House's wage hike because they put politics and power ahead of workers' interests, that the initiative is more important to them as a magnet to turn out the vote in August.

Those same critics say nothing about the fact that House Republicans want the issue off the ballot because they put politics and power ahead of their philosophical opposition to a minimum wage increase -- particular one indexed to inflation. They'll swallow the raise in April to keep Democrats and their allies away from the polls in August.

A minimum wage increase wasn't on the House Republican agenda until it became clear the initiative, which drew 43,000 signatures, would be on the ballot -- and could draw voters who might also be inclined to vote for the oil tax repeal or require a vote of the Legislature before the Pebble mine could proceed.

That takes us back to 2002, when a Republican majority passed a copy of an initiative to boost the minimum wage precisely to keep the issue off the ballot and Democratic supporters from the polls. Then in 2003 they proceeded to gut their own bill. And they wonder why initiative supporters have no faith in their promises that they really mean it this time.

The House approved the minimum wage bill 21-19. The narrowness of the margin reflects the embarrassment of the ploy. The Senate is wary. Sen. John Coghill, a staunch conservative, says the 2003 maneuver taints the current bill and that senators may just let the people vote.

Given the taint, that would be wise. At this point it's the only way we can be sure of an honest decision.

BOTTOM LINE: Politics is alive and well on both sides of minimum wage issue, but House GOP's move is calculation, not conviction.

 



Anchorage