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Just Sayin'

Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.

Time for a State Minimum Wage Increase

Political, Quality of Life, Wisconsin

This year's race for Governor is a critical one for the future of Wisconsin. The contrast between candidates Mary Burke and Scott Walker could not be more stark. The personal ethics of Walker have recently dominated the discussion, but this race is about so much more.

One candidate believes that Big Government should dictate your reproductive options and who you can marry. The other believes in reproductive freedom and the right of adults to marry who they love. One candidate has failed miserably in growing our state economy, while the other is highly qualified to bring jobs to our state. One candidate looks at Wisconsin as a stepping stone to higher office, while the other will devote full-time to the job of Governor.

One of the major issues that demonstrate the clear difference between the two major party candidates is raising the state minimum wage. Mary Burke strongly supports increasing the minimum wage to $10.10/hr, phasing-in the increase in three stages over two years. In an interview she stated “I think increasing the minimum wage leads to people being able to support themselves and their families, and that money will be spent right back into the local economy.

In contrast, Scott Walker never fails to amaze us with a constantly changing word-salad to distract from his real agenda on the subject. In a January speech, Walker flippantly dismissed the opportunity for our lowest-paid workers to earn more as "a political grandstanding stunt".

In a January NBC interview, Walker belittled the large number of Wisconsin adults making under $10.10/hr, stating his personal myth that low wage positions "are overwhelmingly jobs for young people starting out in the workforce."

In a January CNN interview, Walker bizarrely claimed that Democrats are only pushing an increased minimum wage as a distraction because "They want to desperately talk about anything other than Obamacare."

In March, Walker made it clear that he wants nothing to do with raising the state minimum wage, saying, "My focus isn't on mandating what the amount of the wage is. My goal is to help employers create jobs at a much higher volume, and the types of jobs we've been focusing in on...are jobs that far exceed, and in many cases are twice or more than the proposed increase in the minimum wage." So unless you have the skills to make more than $20.20/hour, Walker is not concerned about you.

It is clear that Walker opposes any increase in the minimum wage. In fact, he has not voiced support for any minimum at all. This is not all that surprising, considering that Walker donor and puppet-master, Charles Koch, has spoken out against even the concept of a minimum wage.

Why should a gubernatorial candidate have to worry about increasing the minimum wage? Such an increase should ideally be determined at the federal level. The last US-wide minimum wage increase was passed in 2007 by large bipartisan majorities. However, today's radical Republican Party is not the pragmatic and sensible one of 2007. John Boehner refuses to even bring-up an increase for a House vote. And Senate Republicans filibustered an attempted vote in the Senate.

Clearly, our criminally do-nothing Congress will not pass a federal level raise for our lowest paid workers. So many states are taking the matter into their own hands. Twenty-three states have instituted minimums greater than the federal $7.25/hour. Our neighbors Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota have all increased their own minimum wages. But as with so many other Walker policies, Wisconsin is a reactionary backwater, surrounded by progressive upper-Midwest states.

Why hasn't our state increased the minimum wage? According to the group, Raise Wisconsin, an increase of our state minimum wage to $10.10/hr would result in a pay increase to about half a million Wisconsin workers currently making near or below that level. An estimated 3,800 jobs would be created from the resultant economic boom. And it isn't that the people don't want it. In a March UWM poll, 77% of Wisconsin residents supported a state minimum wage increase. Despite the popularity of an increase, it appears that nothing will be done here.

We have a doctrinaire governor who refuses to lead on the issue. We have an intransigent party in the heavily gerrymandered "majority" in our legislature. Bills were introduced in the last legislative session to increase the minimum wage. However, these were bottled-up in committee by Republicans in both the Assembly and State Senate.

With blockage of a minimum wage increase by Republicans in both the US Congress and Wisconsin legislature, the people have attempted to advance progress in one of the few ways left to them. A coalition of grassroots organizations has spearheaded efforts to get advisory referenda on ballots across Wisconsin for the November election. Referenda have been scheduled for Kenosha, Dane, Milwakee, and Eau Claire Counties. Petitions have been delivered to get the question on the ballot in the cities of Neenah and Menasha.

These advisory referenda are an excellent way to show our elected leaders that increasing our state minimum wage is a popular and prudent move. However, to make a wage increase a reality, we must elect a state legislature that contains fewer progress-blocking extremists. We need a Governor in office who is not dogmatically opposed to such a move, one who will actually take a leadership role in making it happen. We need Mary Burke as our Governor.

 

 

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