SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Senate passed a minimum wage increase Wednesday evening after a lengthy debate that fell mostly along party lines.
The bill also passed on a 39-28 party-line vote. The debate that consumed the state Senate for hours was whether to add 50 cents to that over the next two years.
"These are poor people who can't make a living wage. These are people who are working very hard and are having just surviving," Sen. Chris Eaton, the Brooklyn Park Democrat who is the chief author of the bill, told KARE.
The state's minimum pay rate hasn't gone up since 2005, and that $6.15 mark has since been eclipsed by the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour for most workers in the state.
Republicans argued the minimum wage would force some employers to hire fewer people, especially younger workers who need the first job experience to enter the work force.
"We're just piling on, on our businesses, piling on our communities," Sen. Gary Dahms, a Republican of Redwood Falls, told KARE.
"We just can't keep doing that and expect businesses to keep moving forward and growing."
And while Republicans see the higher wage as money taken from the bottom line of small businesses, Democrats see it as cash that lower wage earners will spend return to the economy immediately by spending it on essentials.
"If they're living on minimum wage they're in poverty, and they're going to spend every penny they get immediately," Sen. Eaton explained.
"That, of course, helps the businesses, puts the money right back into the economy."
Sen. Eaton's bill would take the minimum wage to $7.50 in this coming August, and $7.75 in August of 2014.
The House version, which passed last Friday, would boost the minimum wage to $8.00 per hour this August, then $9.00 in August of 2014, and move it to $9.50 in August of 2015.
In the House version the minimum wage would be indexed to inflation after 2016, with automatic increases pegged to the Consumer Price Index.
The House version would allow very small employers to pay less, and feature a lower "training wage" for the first 90 days of employment. Both features are part of current law.
Now that both versions have passed in their respective chambers, a House-Senate conference committee will need to iron out the differences and come up with a compromise version that both bodies can find acceptable.
Governor Dayton told reporters he prefers the House version, in the $9.00 territory. But, he added, he'll sign whatever but will sign whatever he gets.
"I'm not going to veto a bill just because it doesn't increase it as much as I would like," Dayton said.
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