Bill to raise minimum wage fails in committee


LITTLE ROCK — A bill to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage by $2 an hour failed to clear a House committee on Tuesday.

The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee rejected House Bill 1402 by Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, which would raise the state’s minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.25 an hour. A motion to endorse the bill receive six “yes” votes and 10 “no” votes in the 20-member committee.

Wilkins told reporters that after seeing how the vote went — several Democrats joined with Republicans in voting down the measure — he was not inclined to bring the bill back for a second attempt.

Arkansas last raised its minimum wage in 2006, from $5.15 to $6.25 an hour. That measure passed with bipartisan support, with several Republicans in both the House and Senate signing on as co-sponsors.

Wilkins told the committee Tuesday that Arkansas’ minimum wage is below the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Nineteen states have a minimum wage above the federal minimum, he said.

About 19,000 Arkansas workers earn the minimum wage, which amounts to $250 for a 40-hour work week or $13,000 a year, Wilkins said.

“I would challenge anybody to say they can live on that,” he said.

Among those who testified against the bill was Craig Cloud of Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled, who said that many providers who serve the developmentally disabled are paid through Medicaid.

“Many of our programs, because of the nature of our reimbursement rate and lack of cost of living increases over the past years operate on the thinnest of margins. An increase in the minimum wage could have a dramatic impact upon our service providers and our ability to meet the demand of a higher minimum wage without cutting services or cutting hours,” he said.

Among those who testified for the bill was Alan Hughes, president of Arkansas AFL-CIO. Hughes said that when the Legislature was debating raising the minimum wage seven years ago it heard from opponents who predicted massive job losses for minimum-wage workers, but those predictions did not come to pass.

“We would have to go another two years before we had a chance to do this again (if the bill fails),” Hughes said. “They’ll be farther behind. Gas prices will keep going up, the cost of milk will be going up, everything’s going to keep going up. They’re just falling further and further behind.”

Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, said the economy was better seven years ago.

“I think it’s hard to compare one economy to another when we’re talking about raising the minimum wage,” Meeks said.

Hughes said all of the current arguments against raising the minimum wage were raised seven years ago. He said businesses have been passing on to customers other rising costs, such as utilities and gasoline, and they can do the same with higher labor costs.

“It’ll be passed on,” he said.

“There are other solutions than raising the minimum wage,” Meeks said.