Minimum wage to top $8, but debate continues
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's lowest-paid workers will get a raise Jan. 1, but a higher minimum wage sought by state and national Democrats doesn't appear on the immediate legislative horizon.
The automatic increase of 12 cents an hour, recalculated by law each year based on the federal Consumer Price Index, will increase the state minimum wage to $8.05 in January, up from $7.93. Voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment aimed at annual minimum-wage hikes.
The upcoming increase will also boost the minimum wage for tipped employees from $4.91 an hour to $5.03.
The $8.05 rate -- after the increases amounting to $4.80 per 40-hour work week and $249.60 a year -- keeps Florida ahead of the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which has been in place since July 2009.
However, the rate remains below the $10.10-an-hour mark being pitched by President Barack Obama, state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and state Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami.
Bullard acknowledged Monday his proposal faces a tough future in the Republican-dominated Legislature. But with polls showing support in Florida and voters in other states approving similar measures, he believes pressure is growing so that Florida lawmakers will have to consider steps toward a higher minimum wage.
"Something will be done in the next few years," Bullard said. "Every year that we wait there are more states that are moving to a higher increase and we'll find ourselves as a state on the low end of the minimum wage scale. You have to do something that is going to entice your best and brightest. Even in low-wage fields, individuals will ultimately want to move to a state that is doing better business."
Business groups like the Florida Chamber of Commerce have argued against such proposals, saying the $10.10 proposal will be a problem for small employers forced to absorb added labor costs.
"The voters have spoken and the automatic increase is in the Constitution," Florida Chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley said in an email. "However, attempts to raise wages beyond that can have adverse consequences where businesses raise prices or cut back on workforce."
Still, the move to higher minimum wages has shown to be popular across the country.
In November, voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota backed proposals to raise the minimum wages in their respective states. Illinois voters also supported a similar, but non-binding ballot item.
But Florida isn't rushing to drastically alter its rate -- already higher than all of its Southern neighbors.
Voters narrowly opted to keep Gov. Rick Scott in office over former Gov. Charlie Crist, whose campaign platform included raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
In an Oct. 21 gubernatorial debate in Jacksonville, Scott supported the idea of a minimum wage, but wouldn't say what the number should be.
"How would I know? I mean, the private sector decides wages," Scott said during the debate.
During an Oct. 15 debate, Scott argued against raising the rate to $10.10 an hour, citing a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projection for the entire nation.
"The CBO says that if we raise the minimum wage the way Charlie wants to do it, it would lose 500,000 jobs," Scott said. "I don't want to lose those jobs."
The CBO estimate also projected that 16.5 million workers nationwide would get raises, resulting in $31 billion in additional wages.
Rich Templin, legislative director of the AFL-CIO of Florida, said the state's political and business leaders need to look at the long-term potential of the $10.10 per-hour proposal.
"We're overly reliant on tourist dollars because people living here don't have money to spend themselves. That's a failed policy," Templin said. "Job creators are not Wal-Mart. It's the people that shop at Wal-Mart that create jobs."
Templin argued that a rate hike would increase spending, reduce the need for public services and boost sales taxes, which produce more revenue for the state.
"We need money in the pockets of consumers, that is what drives the economy of Florida, and right now they don't have money to spend," Templin said. Lawmakers "can talk about all the things they do for the business community, but when is the last time they did something for workers?"
The proposal by Bullard and Stafford, (SB 114 and HB 47) will be considered during the legislative session that starts in March.
Asked about the chances for the proposal to advance, Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, simply replied Monday that the bill is being reviewed so it could be referred to the appropriate committees.
Bullard proposed a similar measure in the 2014 session, but the idea failed to get taken up in committees. The same fate was met by its 2014 House version, which was also filed by Stafford.
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