SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 21, 2014

Local lawmakers favor lower minimum-wage hike

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — North Shore legislators say a House plan for increasing the state’s minimum wage takes a more moderate approach than a similar bill that passed the state Senate last fall.

According to various reports and local legislators, House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s plan would step up the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $10.50 in three years.

The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour, which President Barack Obama has said should be raised to $10.10. The Senate bill would raise the minimum wage to $11 over three years.

One of the biggest differences is that while the Senate plan would index future minimum wage hikes to inflation, the House plan would not.

“It seems like the House is moving in a positive direction on my fronts,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who opposed indexing the minimum wage to inflation.

“I am not a big fan of indexing,” said state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers. “It removes legislative oversight of an issue, and it does not factor in the circumstances of that particular moment.”

State Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, had supported a failed Senate amendment to strip out language that would index future minimum wage hikes after 2016 to the inflation rate. She called the House plan “a more moderate, reasonable approach.”

The Labor and Workforce Development Committee was expected to debate the House bills yesterday, but Tarr said an expected committee executive session did not take place.

“That indicates to me that that is still in flux,” Tarr said.

State Rep. Tom Conroy, D-Wayland, the House chairman of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, last night issued a statement that blamed the Senate for a delay in the process. The intention had been to send the bills to the House for debate as soon as possible to raise the minimum wage, he said.

“It is disappointing that the Senate is playing parliamentary politics with an issue that is so fundamentally important to workers,” Conroy said. “This is insider, petty, politics at its very worst, and it’s happening at the expense of working families in Massachusetts.”

Echoing a refrain from North Shore business leaders, state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, said he likes the “lower and slower” approach in the House to a state minimum wage hike, while at the same time reforming the state’s unemployment insurance in an effort to reduce the burden on businesses.

Another House bill calls for unemployment insurance contribution rates to be based on an average payroll over three years instead of one, according to The State House News Service.

“From what we’ve seen and what we are expecting, the approach is much more moderate, and that balanced approach in this economy is the approach we should take,” he said.

Speliotis, chairman of the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, said the three-year average would avoid harming a business that might see a major layoff in one year, stretching out the impact over three years.

State Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, said he was glad the minimum wage hike being proposed in the House was not as large as the Senate’s, but more could be done to fix the cost of unemployment insurance so small businesses are not forced to move out of state.

“I think we can go a little further,” Hill said, adding that the Republican caucus plans to sit down and discuss the legislation.

The minimum-wage bill comes with concessions, Speliotis said. There is no teen minimum wage, as the business community wanted. Minimum-wage hike proponents favor indexing the rate to inflation.

Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones, R-North Reading, issued a statement on March 13 suggesting that he favors the speaker’s version but also criticizing DeLeo for not including tax breaks or a plan for dealing with unemployment insurance, which is set to increase dramatically this summer.

“Unfortunately, the speaker’s proposal falls flat on a number of key provisions, which if not included in the House’s final proposal, will ultimately hurt the thousands of small businesses in our state,” said Jones in the statement.

State Rep. Leah Cole, R-Peabody, said in an interview yesterday she was still sifting information from both sides of the debate.

She she had not decided whether to support the minimum wage hike but had concerns about “adding to the financial burden of small-business owners” when the state’s economy is still struggling to rebound.

“We need to focus on getting more people back to work,” Cole said.

CNHI Statehouse Bureau reporter Christian Wade contributed to this report.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.