JUNEAU — The supporters of the initiative to raise Alaska’s minimum wage say a bill introduced by the Republican-lead House to do the same is “phony.”
House Bill 384 was introduced by the House Rules Committee, where much of the House’s Republican leadership sits, on Friday and copies the provisions contained in the initiative.
Both would raise minimum wage to $9.75 per hour over two years, adjust for inflation after that and guarantee the state’s minimum wage is always at least a dollar more than federal minimum wage.
But supporters of the initiative say it’s an attempt to gut the measure and discourage low-income works from going to the polls.
That’s because if the Legislature passes a bill that is substantially similar to an initiative, the initiative gets knocked off the ballot. That can be a big deal because the Legislature can’t touch an initiative for two years, but there’s no such provision for bills.
The Legislature could return to the bill next year and undo it, just like they did to the 2002 initiative to raise the minimum wage, said Fairbanks Democratic Rep. David Guttenberg.
“The entire thing is a red flag,” he said. “The last time there was a ballot initiative instead of getting it on the ballot, we passed it out of the Legislature and the next year they came back and took out the escalator (the provision adjusting minimum wage with inflation). Now they’re doing the same thing. It’s completely disingenuous.”
A House-sponsored study found the initiative was popular, with 69 percent of respondents supporting an increase to the minimum wage.
House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, denied the initiative supporters’ claims, and in an interview with the Associated Press said the bill is a response to the poll.
“It’s an issue on Alaskans’ minds, and we think maybe it is time to take it up,” he said.
But initiative sponsor and former labor commissioner Ed Flanagan said he hopes people see through the House’s bill.
He said people shouldn’t take it seriously considering the body’s lack of action on minimum wage since they repealed much of the minimum wage bill in 2003 and the fact that the chairman of the Rules Committee, Rep. Craig Johnson, was the sponsor of a 2009 law to freeze the pay of restaurant workers because they receive tips.
“The legislature’s Republican majorities have had no interest in raising the minimum wage,” he said. “There has been at least one effort to reduce minimum wage of hospitality workers by introducing the tip credit. ... The sponsor of that legislation was none other than Rep. Craig Johnson, the sponsor of today’s bill. So if I find Rep. Johnson’s bona fides somewhat suspect on this issue people should understand why.”
Guttenberg said that even though he supports raising the minimum wage, he’s considering voting against the bill if it comes to a vote.
“I have a lot of angst about the disingenuousness of putting it on now,” he said. “We have two weeks left, and if they wanted to have a decent hearing on it, they would have done it a month ago.”
Guttenberg’s possible no vote is something Flanagen said he’s hoping other legislators will consider, even if they support the minimum wage. He said he plans to roll out an advertising campaign in the next few weeks to let the public know what the House Republicans are attempting.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544.