ST. PAUL — President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech promise to "give Americans a raise" raised the hopes of Minnesotans who want the state minimum wage increased.
The Democratic-controlled Minnesota House already is on record in favor of a $9.50-an-hour wage, but fellow Democrats in the Senate majority stopped well short of that level last year.
"With the president's call for a $10.10 minimum wage coupled with Gov. (Mark) Dayton's and the Minnesota House's support for an increase to at least $9.50, it should be an easy lift for the Minnesota Senate to help hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers, children and families," said Executive Director Peggy Flanagan of the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota and co-chairwoman of the Minnesota Minimum Wage Coalition.
Senators, led by Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, approved a $7.75 wage in 2013.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben, D-Cottage Grove, said she is optimistic.
"We plan to put a bill raising the wage in Minnesota on the governor's desk this session," she said, and the governor supports the higher wage.
The existing state minimum wage is $6.16, but most Minnesota businesses fall under the federal $7.25-an-hour law.
Chances of raising the minimum wage may be higher in Minnesota than Congress. In Minnesota, the House, Senate and governor's office are controlled by Democrats, who generally favor a higher wage. The U.S. House is dominated by Republicans, who look on an increase much less favorably.
Four hours after the state Legislature convenes at noon Feb. 25, the Minimum Wage Coalition plans a rally in the Capitol. A House committee led by Rep. Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, has been meeting around the state to discuss the issue, and drawing attention to it.
Winkler said he is happy that Obama plans to order that workers on federal contracts receive $10.10 an hour, even without congressional approval.
"But for those who will not be receiving this pay increase, there is still plenty of work to be done," Winkler said. "In Minnesota, we were already far behind the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. This announcement is another reminder of the urgent need to improve wages for workers across Minnesota as well."
On Thursday, Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, and others unveiled a series of initiatives to help women, including a higher minimum wage.
"Minnesota's economy is headed in the right direction, but not everyone is sharing in the gains," Thissen said, and women are among those.
The Women's Economic Security Act announced Thursday includes raising the minimum wage to $9.50 and closing the "gender pay gap."
"The Women's Economic Security Act lifts up working families, including our mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers," said Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, who will be the House author of the act. "These are the Minnesotans who work hard every single day to educate our children in classrooms, care for the sick at hospitals, keep our streets safe and build successful small businesses."