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Minimum Wage Debate Heats Up At State Capitol

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Some of Minnesota’s well-known mayors, including the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, are putting their weight behind an effort to pass Minnesota’s first minimum wage hike in eight years.

The Minnesota legislature is expected to vote on raising the minimum wage from $6.15, one of the lowest in the nation, to $9.50 an hour.

A recent state report found that thousands of Minnesota workers earn a minimum wage that’s worth less in today’s dollars than it was in 1974. While many are young, part-time workers, 40 percent are adults.

That’s why some Minnesota Mayors, including from Minneapolis, Hibbing, Falcon Heights and St. Paul say those workers are the “hidden poor.”

“Go to any fast food restaurant in this state and you’re going to see people that are working in those places trying to support their families,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “Trying to pay their rent. Trying to put food on the table. This isn’t a training wage. This is what people are living on.”

Raising the wage is now picking up steam as a political issue.

Gov. Mark Dayton used a union hall this week to announce his new running mate, who made it a focus of her remarks.

“Are we going to raise the minimum wage or are we going to let the middle class fall further behind?” Lt. Governor candidate Tina Smith said, as a crowd of union workers cheered.

Republican critics aren’t opposed to raising the minimum wage. They support raising it from $6.15 to $7.25. But they say raising it higher than $7.25 could hurt small businesses more than it might help workers.

“To me, we’re just throwing up our hands and saying, ‘well, we don’t want to take the time to do the things that will provide for good jobs in the future,'” said State Senator Gary Dahms, (R-Redwood Falls).

Instead, Dahms says the state should put more money and effort into vocational education programs to help young people learn the skills to get better jobs.

“So, what we’d rather do is raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and hope that takes care of our issue. That’s not going to solve our issue. We’re going to be back and next time it’s a higher wage, and a higher wage. We need to get people trained. We need to give people opportunity,” he said.

Minnesota’s $6.15 an hour minimum wage is among the four lowest in the country, including Arkansas, Georgia and Wyoming.

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