BOISE – When Idaho lawmakers passed a minimum wage bill this year, it was derided as a “do-nothing” bill intended to stave off a farther-reaching measure and quiet a wide public consensus that it was time for the state’s minimum wage to rise.
Yet thousands of Idaho workers will see increases today from $5.15 an hour to $5.85 an hour that might not have happened otherwise.
Here’s why: Idaho’s legislation merely matched the state’s minimum wage to the federal minimum wage, now and into the future. The federal wage goes up today, and all employers who do interstate business or whose annual gross revenue is $500,000 or more have to comply with that federal wage law.
But smaller firms that do business only inside the state need comply only with the state wage law. Because of this year’s Idaho legislation, they too have to increase their minimum pay.
Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, the House Majority Caucus chairman and a lead sponsor of the bill, said he thought the bump in minimum wage was appropriate.
“With the cost of living that’s out there today and inflationary increases, if someone is doing a job and is worth their weight working, they’re probably worth that much per hour,” he said. “We are supporting a wage increase. What we wanted to do was to take the debate out of the Idaho Statehouse every time we have a wage increase.”
Under the federal law, the minimum wage both nationwide and in Idaho will rise again to $6.55 an hour July 24, 2008, and to $7.25 an hour July 24, 2009. More than half of the states, including Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Montana, have set state wages higher than the federal minimum.
Roberts said every time the minimum wage comes up in the Idaho Legislature, there’s “bickering” between those who think it’s not high enough and those who think the issue should be left up to market forces.
Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, proposed alternate legislation this year that would have raised Idaho’s minimum wage to $7.25 an hour July 1 and indexed it to inflation in the future. “The reason that I opposed the legislation and others opposed it was because it pegged Idaho’s minimum wage at the lowest of the low – when we have to compete with Washington, for instance, whose minimum wage is $7.93 per hour,” Pasley-Stuart said.
She called the successful bill, which Roberts co-sponsored along with the entire House GOP leadership team, “the no-bill bill,” and said it “didn’t mean a thing.”
The Democratic bill also would have done away with a lower wage of $3.35 an hour for tipped employees and restricted a $4.25-an-hour training wage that employers can pay workers 19 and younger for the first 90 days of their employment. Pasley-Stuart’s bill, which she co-sponsored with Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, would have limited that to 30 days and to workers under 18.
Idaho’s training-wage law matches federal law. Its “tip credit” provision, which requires employers to make up the difference if tips don’t bring the worker’s total pay up to the full minimum wage, slightly exceeds the federal law for tipped workers.
The state Department of Labor estimates that 19,811 nonfarm Idaho employees will see their hourly wages rise today. Department spokesman Bob Fick said an additional thousand or more farmworkers also will see pay increases.
Fick said the department doesn’t know how many Idaho employees fall only under the state minimum wage law and not the federal law. “There would be some thousands, but how many thousands I couldn’t tell you,” he said.
However, the vast majority of Idaho workers already make more than the new $5.85 minimum wage. Only 3.2 percent of the state’s 624,320 nonfarm employees will be seeing pay raises today because of the increase.
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