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Idaho Gov. Butch Otter lets bill forbidding local minimum wage hikes become law without his signature

Idaho’s state Capitol is reflected in the Joe R. Williams state office building across the street, also known as the “Hall of Mirrors” (Betsy Z. Russell)
Idaho’s state Capitol is reflected in the Joe R. Williams state office building across the street, also known as the “Hall of Mirrors” (Betsy Z. Russell)

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has allowed legislation forbidding local voters, cities or counties from raising the minimum wage to become law without his signature, saying he was “philosophically torn” over the issue.

“Self-determination and local control – like independence and self-reliance – are Idaho values,” Otter wrote in a letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke.

Otter said while he personally opposes the minimum wage entirely, he can see how the bill could “stifle local solutions.” And noting that no Idaho city or county has raised its minimum wage, he said, “I consider this bill to be a solution in search of a problem.”

“Yet the Legislature made its voice heard,” he wrote, “and at the end of the day I understand its intentions. So I submit this letter in recognition of the law of unintended consequences and to respectfully remind legislators of their own reactions when our absentee federal landlords impose restrictions on us.”

House Assistant Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, criticized Otter’s decision. Erpelding is the sponsor of legislation to raise Idaho’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage to $8.25 an hour on July 1, and to $9.25 an hour a year later.

“That’s not leadership – that’s punting,” Erpelding said. “I would have expected more leadership from a governor who’s run his entire career on local control.”

Majority Republicans have refused to allow Erpelding’s bill a hearing. Current Idaho law ties Idaho’s state minimum wage to the federal minimum.

“When the feds do act on the minimum wage, and they will, they’re going to raise it in such a way that it’s going to cause a great impact on our local businesses,” Erpelding said. “If Idaho raised the minimum wage slowly and with intention, we could minimize economic harm.”

The minimum-wage pre-emption bill isn’t the only measure Idaho lawmakers have passed this session to limit local governments and local ballot measures; they’ve also passed legislation to forbid local regulation, taxing or restrictions on plastic grocery bags or other containers. That bill has passed both houses and is awaiting action by Otter.


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