Florida voters on Tuesday approved raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next six years, which advocates say will lift the pay for hundreds of thousands of workers in the state’s service-heavy economy.
A supermajority of Florida voters approved the amendment to the Florida Constitution that will raise Florida’s minimum wage from the current $8.56 an hour to $15 an hour by 2026.
Although Florida’s current minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, supporters of Amendment 2 said it is impossible to live on that wage given the state’s cost of living. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will increase the income of a quarter of Florida’s workforce, according to the Florida Policy Institute.
“Floridians are making clear that it’s time to move the needle on shared prosperity,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute.
Florida joins seven other states that have made plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next several years.
For Lakeland resident Faith Booker, getting $15 an hour in pay down the road means she won’t have to work two jobs and she can spend more time with her five children whose ages range from 1 to 14. Booker earns $9.70 an hour as a cashier at a McDonald’s restaurant and $8.56 an hour in the same job at a Burger King restaurant.
“Oh my gosh ... that will be a big change for me,” Booker said Tuesday night. “Sometimes I’m just short and have to pick and choose which bills to pay.”
Opponents of Amendment 2 said it will stifle growth as Florida’s battered tourism economy recovers from the impact of the new coronavirus and businesses won’t be able to afford the increases, resulting in layoffs.
Amendment 2 will raise Florida’s minimum wage gradually over the next six years. Under the six-year phase-in, minimum wage would go up to $10 an hour starting next year, followed by a $1 per hour increase each year until it reached $15 an hour in 2026. Future increases would then return to being adjusted for inflation starting in 2027.
The effort to get the amendment on the ballot was initiated by Orlando attorney John Morgan, a big fundraiser in Democratic circles.
In a tweet, he celebrated, saying, “The People of Florida gave the working poor of Florida a forever raise."
Business groups across Florida opposed the amendment, saying it would put a strain on the state’s economy.
“Florida’s free-market conditions and skill set should be the driving factors that dictate wages, not government mandates,” the Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association said in a statement before the election. “Our contractors, manufacturers, suppliers, and consultants are hurting enough from the pandemic. Raising Florida’s minimum wage now and through our state’s constitution is not the time or the place for this type of change.”
The Florida Chamber of Commerce fears the wage hike could cost the state 500,000 jobs.
“And that’s before you factor in COVID at all,” said Dr. Jerry Parrish, chief economist of the Florida Chamber Foundation. “Yeah, there’s going to be a few people that make more money, but it’s at a great cost to Florida.”
During early voting in the state capital, Maggie Charvonier, 42, a Mexican-born insurance agent and a registered Democrat who backs Biden, said that uncertainty over the economy was a key factor in voting. She supports the minimum wage change.
“I want that raised,” she said. “How do people survive?”
But Eric Thomas, 43, a small business owner and registered Republican who also backs Biden, said he was voting no on the measure.
“It’s a terrible idea,” Thomas said. “On the surface value, when you hear it, it sounds like a great idea, but when you look at the impact on the businesses and how much it hurts – I know a lot of people with businesses that would just be devastated.”
Florida voters reject open primaries for state offices
Florida voters have rejected a measure that would have opened primaries for statewide races to voters of all parties, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.
Florida currently has closed primaries, which are limited to voters registered with a specific political party. The winners of the party nominations face off in general elections.
If Amendment 3 to the Florida Constitution had passed, state races would have become top-two primaries starting in 2024. The two candidates with the most votes in primary races for governor, the Legislature and state Cabinet offices would have faced off in general elections under the system.
About 3.8 million of Florida’s registered voters don’t get to vote in primaries because they aren’t registered with a party affiliation.
Amendment guru John Sowinski said opposition from both parties likely sealed the amendment’s fate.
“Folks being told to vote no by both the Republican and the Democratic Party is what brought it down," Sowinski said. “The surprising thing to me is how narrow the margin was.”
Florida voters want single election for amendment process
Florida voters have rejected adding an extra election to the process for passing new amendments to the Florida Constitution.
Amendment 4 would have required that future amendments to the Florida Constitution be approved in two elections instead of the current single election.
Supporters of the amendment believed it would cut down on the number of amendments to the state constitution, saying they are often frivolous and undeserving of being in Florida’s governing document.
Opponents of the amendment said it already was difficult enough getting an amendment passed. Currently, to get an amendment before voters, sponsors must get hundreds of thousands of signatures from across the state and make sure the amendment’s language is vetted by the Florida Supreme Court. For approval, it requires 60% of the vote.
“The proponents tried to frame it as there being a problem with direct democracy. Voters clearly don’t see a problem with direct democracy,” said Aliki Moncrief with Florida Conservation Voters.
Sowinski hopes voters were able to send a message to lawmakers who have in recent years sought to restrict the citizen initiative process.
“This is a clear message from voters that it’s a process they support and want to keep,” Sowinski said.
Florida voters decide on other amendments to state Constitution
— Amendment 1, which seeks to clarify that only U.S. citizens over age 18 are eligible to vote in elections, was approved.
— Amendment 5, which would give homeowners an extra year to claim a homestead tax benefit, passed.
— Amendment 6, which would extend a property tax discount to the surviving spouse of a veteran with combat-related disabilities, was approved overwhelmingly.
All state constitutional amendments require a 60% supermajority for approval.
At least 10 million voters weighed in on each amendment, which Sowinski said is evidence that Floridians value the ability to weigh in on policy questions and likely a reason why they rejected the amendment that would have made it more difficult to amend the state Constitution.
AP writer Brendan Farrington and Capitol News Service’s Jake Stofan in Tallahassee contributed to this report.