Branstad willing to consider higher minimum wage

Johnson County now 2 months into its own wage increase

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DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said Thursday he would consider an increase in the state minimum wage if such a bill lands on his desk this legislative session.

In an interview, Branstad noted that a number of states recently have increased their minimum wages, and that he signed the bill in 1989 that created Iowa’s minimum wage then at $3.35 per hour.

Iowa’s current minimum of $7.25 an hour matches the federal wage threshold.

“I’m willing to consider it,” the governor said, noting his support would be contingent on the amount.

“I don’t want to do something that’s going to cost people jobs. We’ve tried to focus bringing more good paying jobs to the state of Iowa, focusing on attracting industry and business that will pay good higher wages and things like that rather than focusing on what the floor should be,” he said. “We’re willing to consider what may come through the legislative process.”

Last session, the Democrat-led Iowa Senate voted 27-22 to boost the state’s minimum to $8.75 an hour — one bump would have come last July and a second 75-cent jump this July. But Republicans who control the Iowa House did not take up Senate File 269.

During a legislative forum this week, Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock called raising the state’s minimum wage “an old idea” at a time when Iowa needs to pursue new approaches that hold the promise of creating good-paying careers.

“I think it’s difficult to show how that’s actually improved Iowans’ lives and lifted people out of poverty,” Dix said of the wage. “It really hasn’t shown a lot of positive improvements.”

During last February’s Senate debate, bill sponsor Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, cited Economic Policy Institute data indicating that increasing Iowa’s minimum wage to $8.75 would help 12 percent of all Iowa workers, with 112,000 seeing a direct increase in their wages and almost 70,000 receiving an indirect increase as the floor moves up.

After the Legislature adjourned, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved a phased-in boost in the minimum wage inside the county, with an initial increase last November of 95 cents per hour that is slated to grow to $9.15 on May 1 and to $10.10 by 2017.

Cities within Johnson County had the option of sticking with the state minimum of $7.25 an hour, and Shueyville, Solon and Swisher councils voted to do that.

The local rule is the only one in Iowa and eventually might face a legal challenge.

Initially, Iowa Labor Commissioner Michael Mauro said his legal staff advised that a county setting a minimum wage above the statewide minimum would be inconsistent with state law and unconstitutional.

Courtney Maxwell Greene, communications director for Iowa Workforce Development issued a statement recently saying that interpretation “was not incorrect,” but added: “IWD has no authority/standing as a party to challenge Johnson County’s decision to pay wages higher than $7.25 an hour. IWD/Labor Commission gets involved and enforces occurrences when employers pay less than $7.25 an hour, and that is not the case in Johnson County.”

House Speaker-select Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, in a recent interview, said there is concern that Johnson County’s action might lead to a “big patchwork” of counties with different wage standards, so “right now I think people are just watching to see what happens.”

She said she expected the focus of the split-control Legislature during the 2016 session likely will be on training workers and finding ways to match those improved skills with good jobs.

“I believe we really need to focus on how to get people into jobs with livable wages. I don’t think anybody has as their goal in life to have a job that pays minimum wage. People want to have a job that pays a livable wage,” Upmeyer said.

At least 14 states and several cities enacted minimum-wage increases that took effect Jan. 1 at rates higher than the federal minimum.

The 14 states were Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.

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