January 29. 2013 10:45PM

NH minimum wage increase pushed in House committee hearing

State House Bureau

CONCORD - The owner of a seasonal ice cream stand would have to sell 40,000 more cones a season to pay for a 75-cent increase in the minimum wage, he told the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee Tuesday.

"Small business in New Hampshire is myself and my wife," said Steve Grenier, who co-owns Lago's Ice Cream in Rye, "not some big corporation you can tax the devil out of," noting increasing the minimum wage would cost about $10,000 that will have to come out of his family's income.

Grenier employs about 35 teenagers, most earning the minimum wage.

But supporters of two bills to reestablish the state's minimum wage and to increase it from $7.25 an hour said no one can support him or herself, much less a family, earning the minimum wage.

The state's minimum wage law was repealed two years ago.

The business community and the House Republican leadership turned out to oppose both House Bill 241 and HB 127, while unions and social service advocates support the change saying people need help as more and more find themselves in economic crisis.

Currently, New Hampshire is the only state in New England that relies on the federal rate of $7.25 to set minimum wage, and with an increase to $8 would move ahead of only Maine.

HB 241 would set the minimum wage at $9.25 an hour and would increase the percentage tipped workers are paid to 45 percent of the minimum, while HB 127 would set the minimum wage at $8 an hour and would require a yearly report on the effects of cost of living increases on minimum wage earners.

The yearly report would end the days of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind impact of legislation, said bill prime sponsor, Rep. Peter Sullivan, D-Manchester.

He, like other bill supporters, said increasing the minimum wage would be good for the local economy and benefit others "up the ladder."

"Higher wages are good for the economy. They increase productivity and put dollars back into local economies," Sullivan told the committee. "That benefits everyone, on every rung of the economic ladder."

But Rep. Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, speaking for the House Republican leadership, said now is not the time to burden businesses, noting that the state's largest private employer BAE Systems just announced 200 people would be laid off in New Hampshire.

"Not everyone on the minimum wage needs it to live on," Jasper said, noting many teenagers live at home and semi-retired people work to supplement their family's income.

But others argued 75 percent of the 14,000 people in the state earning the minimum wage or less are adults, citing state Labor Department statistics.

And they argued those adults earning the minimum wage are subsidized by taxpayers through food stamps, welfare and rental supplements.

"With all due respect to the business community, when the state was booming, we were told 'Don't mess with (the minimum wage) don't raise it now'" said long-time advocate Judy Elliot of the NH Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, said, "and now we are lagging behind the other New England states we're told 'Now is not the time to raise the minimum wage.' You can't have it both ways."

Business organization including the Business and Industry Association, the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Merchants Association of NH all opposed the bill, saying it will hurt business.

Not only will employees at minimum wage receive a boost, other employees will expect an increase as well, they said, while Social Security and other costs will increase as well.

Increasing the minimum wage "doesn't just increase the wages of the (one employee group)," said David Juvet, senior vice president of the BIA, "it has a ripple effect for business across the state. It will increase labor costs which already are the number one cost for businesses."

A survey of members of the Retail Merchants Assocation of NH indicates increasing the minimum wage will result in reduced hours for some worker and layoffs for others, said the organization's lobbyist Curtis Barry.

He said increasing the minimum wage will hurt younger and lower-skilled workers the most.

But Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, another sponsor of HB 127, told the committee those earning the minimum wage are likely to be receiving government subsidies.

"If the minimum wage had gone up a much as executive salaries, it would be about $22 to $23 an hour now," he said.

A sub-committee will work on the two bills, along with HB 501 which will have a public hearing next week and would raise the minimum wage to about $9.25 an hour.