May 04. 2014 7:27PM

Granite Staters split on NH minimum wage hike proposal

Union Leader Correspondent

GOFFSTOWN — Many Granite Staters have already made up their minds about setting a minimum wage in New Hampshire as the New Hampshire State Legislature prepares to debate the issue.

New Hampshire currently follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour but HB 1403 would establish a state minimum wage of $8.23 an hour and raise it to $9 within two years. It goes to the floor Thursday with a recommendation from the Senate Finance Committee that it not pass.

Finance Committee vice-chair Lou D’Allesandro, who represents Goffstown along with wards three, four, 10 and 11 in Manchester, and committee member Sylvia Larsen voted in favor of the legislation. Committee Chair Jeanie Forrester and members Peter Bragdon, Chuck Morse and Bob Odell do not support the bill.

D’Allesandro said it’s important for people to have a living wage and HB 1403 would have many positive effects, such as increasing disposable income.

“I’m in favor of increasing minimum wage and I’ll speak to that when the bill comes before the Senate,” D’Allesandro said.

Local residents seemed evenly split on the matter, some citing the difficulties of raising a family on minimum wage while others said the effect on small business owners and consumer must be considered.

“I think it should be raised,” said Erika Brown, of Hudson.

It can be difficult for those making minimum wage to cover basic needs, Brown said, and many will benefit from an increase.

At a local coffee shop, Bill Masse, of Bedford and Richard Chandonnais, of Manchester said the time has come to raise minimum wage.

Masse said that minimum wage earners are struggling in this economy.

“I think they ought to raise the minimum wage,” Masse said. “Half the people can’t live on what they’re making now.”

Chandonnais agreed.

“I’m for it 100 percent,” Chandonnais said. “It should have been done a long time ago.”

Mark Henniker, of Bedford, pointed out that federal legislators get a mandatory pay raise every year while many Americans face tax increases and inflation without a cost of living increase.

“I think minimum wage should go up quite often,” Henniker said.

Dan Lieb, owner of The Original Martin’s House of Cloth in Bedford, was on board with the idea of increasing minimum wage given the cost of rent and other necessities.

“From what I’ve seen with my friends and with the way the economy is it’s just really hard for people to make a living on what minimum wage is.”

Others take a different view. “I don’t agree that it should be passed,” said Lia Sicsai, of Merrimack.

Small businesses that can’t afford to absorb the cost will have to pass it on to consumers, Sicsai said. People making a higher minimum wage at entry-level jobs will also be less motivated to try and better their skills and their situation, Sicsai said.

Larry Brown, owner of Goffstown Hardware, agrees that raising minimum wage won’t raise many people out of poverty.

His business often hires teenagers at minimum wage, making them eligible for a raise after 90 days based on performance. Having to start them at $9 or $10 is a costly proposition that would only benefit a small group of young employees at his company.

He doesn’t know of any full-time employees trying to raise a family on minimum wage, Brown said. In the long run a higher minimum wage will make it difficult for high school students to find part-time work, Brown said.

“I don’t think it’s a great idea,” Brown said.

The lunch crowd in downtown Goffstown felt that the minimum wage can’t be adjusted without considering how it affects small business and consumers.

“I think it’s a Catch 22,” said Sean Casewell, of Weare. “If you raise minimum wage you raise the cost of goods to cover it.”

Bob Bissonnette, of Goffstown, said small business owners who can’t afford to pay the minimum wage will have to cut benefits, giving their employees less hours.

“If you raise minimum wage there won’t be any 40-hour-a-week jobs,” Bissonnette said.

Covering the cost of goods and services has to be taken into consideration before making any type of minimum wage adjustment, said Bob Cloutier of North Sutton.

“Once you raise minimum wage everything goes up,” Cloutier said.