Legislature

Branstad favors uniform minimum wage for Iowa

Willing to consider increase, but calls $15 hourly rate 'unrealistic'

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad delivers the Condition of the State speech at the State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad delivers the Condition of the State speech at the State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he wants to meet with top House and Senate leaders after the Nov. 8 election to discuss bipartisan prospects for passing a uniform, statewide minimum wage that would pre-empt local jurisdictions from creating a “hodgepodge” of different pay standards.

Branstad said he would be willing to consider an increase to the state’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour — noting he signed a bill in 1989 that created Iowa’s minimum wage then at a $3.35 hourly rate. However, he did not propose a specific amount other than to rule out a $15 hourly wage supported by Democratic presidential candidates as “unrealistic.”

The six-term Republican said it would “be wise” to carefully review and balance workforce issues and needs to keep Iowa competitive given other states have raised the minimum pay threshold for their workers and several Iowa counties are phasing in base wages that exceed the $7.25 statewide minimum.

“I would prefer that we have a uniform statewide minimum wage rather than a hodgepodge of county by county, city by city minimum wages that could be, I think, very confusing for people,” Branstad told those at his weekly news conference.

“We know this is a controversial and difficult issue, but I think it’s one that, hopefully, we can address,” he added. “It would be my hope that after the election is completed, we could sit down with leaders of both parties in both houses and see what could be accomplished.”

States bordering Iowa have current or pending future minimum wages of $9.50 in Minnesota, $9 in Nebraska, $8.55 in South Dakota, $8.25 in Illinois; $7.80 in Missouri and $7.25 in Wisconsin, according to the National Association of State Legislatures.

Branstad said he would want to engage outside experts who are knowledgeable on workforce competitiveness to deal with a “delicate balance” of improving income for Iowans working minimum-wage jobs but doing it in a way that would not hurt small businesses, discourage startup companies or “destroy” jobs.

County boards of supervisors in Johnson, Linn, Wapello and Polk counties have voted to raise the minimum wage locally to levels higher than the state and federal rate. Branstad said the action has created some confusion and legal questions which he expects would be erased with a uniform law that pre-empts local variances.

“There are already some legal questions about whether the counties have this authority. To my knowledge, it’s not been challenged in the courts yet but it could,” said Branstad, noting that some communities are facing “a real challenge and a real problem” because they are located in more than one county.

Branstad’s comments Monday could elevate the minimum-wage issues in legislative races in all 100 Iowa House districts and 25 even-numbered Iowa Senate districts to be decided in the Nov. 8 election. Republicans control the Iowa House by a margin of 57-43, while in the Senate, 25 seats are held by Democrats, 23 by Republicans, one by a no-party independent, and one is vacant due to the recent death of Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport.

After Branstad’s weekly morning news conference, Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire issued a statement, saying: “After they have stonewalled on this important issue for Iowa families for a decade, why would any Iowa worker believe Gov. Branstad and legislative Republicans are sincere today about raising the minimum?

“During this campaign cycle, they have shown their true colors by lining up beside Donald Trump and his proposals to provide tax cuts for the super rich rather than a meaningful effort to expand Iowa’s middle class,” she added. “The only way the minimum wage will be increased for Iowa workers is if there are Democratic majorities in the Iowa House and Senate.”

Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds have been traveling the state campaigning for GOP candidates in hopes of garnering voter support for Republican majorities in the Iowa House and Senate for the next two years.