Friday, August 22, 2014

TOP STORY >> Minimum wage debated

Leader staff writer

Local reactions were a mixed bag on an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017.

Stephen Copley of Little Rock, who is spearheading the campaign to put the matter to a vote on the Nov. 4 ballot, said Give Arkansas A Raise Now turned in nearly 70,000 signatures on Monday.

Supporters were short by 15,107 after Secretary of State Mark Martin certified 47,400 of the 62,507 signatures turned in by the first deadline, which was July 7.

Give Arkansas A Raise Now — like advocates of expanding alcohol sales statewide through a constitutional amendment that would make every county wet — was given another 30 days to close the gap. Aug. 18 was the final deadline.

Copley said, “We’re really confident we’ll meet that number.”

The secretary of state has 30 days to review the signatures.

Supporters of expanding alcohol sales are also confident their proposal will land on the ballot, but they expect opponents to file a lawsuit.

The opponents, mostly liquor store owners, dispute the July 7 deadline. According to attorney David Couch, who is spearheading the alcohol- sales initiative, opponents are claiming that Friday, July 4, should have been the first deadline because state law requires that signatures for ballot measures be turned in four months before Election Day.

But Couch has told The Leader that opponents are “grasping at straws” because it has been the Secretary of State Office’s policy since 1925 to extend deadlines to the next business day when they fall on holidays.

If the opponents win their case in the Arkansas Supreme Court, the minimum wage initiative may also be removed from the ballot because the signatures for it were also turned in on July 7. But, Copley said, “We don’t think they would rule in favor of the opponents.”

Several studies show raising the minimum wage doesn’t skyrocket prices or result in job loss but rather works as a “balancing act” because happier workers are more productive, absent less and have more money to spend, Copley said.

Jacksonville business owner Patrick Thomas disagrees. He believes minimum wage should be tied to a qualification, like being a high school graduate or GED earner.

Thomas made the point that minimum wage was meant for entry-level positions, not as a stopping point in a career. If the wage goes up, the bottom rung of the career ladder will be harder to grab, he said.

“My argument is in defense of keeping people employable,” Thomas explained.

He also fears that offering a higher minimum wage will entice teenagers who are thinking about dropping out of school to do just that.

Thomas said raising the minimum wage would take pay raises away from employees who have worked their way up in a business.

The most recent increase in the federal minimum wage, which was played out over two years, was from $5.25 to $7.25 an hour, Thomas noted.

He balked at the double-digit increase — a 38 percent hike in pay — saying most hard-working people in the middle class don’t see that much in such a short period of time.

“The gap between the poor, the middle class and the rich is getting more narrow. The poor and the middle class are blending together,” Thomas warned.

He also said, “As an employer, it makes a difference between raising my products up higher so that people making minimum wage can’t afford to buy them. The poor keep getting poorer because everybody keeps raising their prices up.”

Thomas said people need to work smarter or harder and two or three jobs, if they have to, to better themselves.

Several people agreed and disagreed with him in their responses to The Leader’s post in the “Jacksonville Ar News” Facebook group.

Joe Cataldo wrote, “If minimum wage goes up, so does gas, food, lodging, taxes, everything. So, in the end, you ain’t going to live better.”

But Copley said polls have shown 78 or 79 percent of voters support the initiative.

And Marji Houston argued, “The minimum wage should be at least $10...The amount it is now is below poverty level.”

Debbie Sullivan Fulton wrote, “I worked two full-time jobs and my ex worked 50 plus hours. And, in today’s time, that’s what people have to do to support your family.”

Lida Feller said, “When was the last time minimum went up? 2007. The cost of living has gone up four times faster then the minimum wage. If you feel that the wages should not go up, then people will have to stop complaining about people being on welfare...Most people that have do not see the need for the have not to have a penny more.”

Craig Blazevich wrote, “the greed in this nation will never allow a minimum wage to go up that high (to a living wage).” He said people will have to up their personal value through attaining more education, joining the military or developing professionally by working harder and more hours, like high school dropouts making six figures selling cars. “It’s not easy. But true success never is. It takes hard work and sacrifice.”

Kelley Smiley suggested indexing the wage to inflation, while Roberta McGrath supports a federal law prohibiting employers from raising prices.