House passes minimum wage hike
CONCORD – The House on Wednesday passed legislation that would set the state's minimum wage at one dollar above the federal level and then escalate it in future years.
House Bill 1403 would raise the New Hampshire minimum wage to $8.25-an-hour effective Jan. 1, 2015. On the following Jan. 1, the wage would increase to $9-an-hour, and in ensuing years, it would increase commensurate with cost-of-living increases based on the Consumer Price Index.
But it would not decrease if the CPI were to drop. And, like the current state law, the bill provides tipped employees who regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips a base salary of not less than 45 percent of the minimum wage .
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House on a roll call vote of 173-118. Its outlook is uncertain, at best, in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow, 13-11 majority.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, New Hampshire is among 18 states that currently set their minimum wage at federal level, which is $7.25-an-hour. In the Northeast, the other five New England states and New York and New Jersey are higher; only Pennsylvania also observes the federal wage.
In 2011, the House, then controlled by Republicans, repealed the state's minimum wage , defaulting to the federal wage of $7.25. Last year's Democratic-controlled House voted to re-enact the state's own minimum wage, also at $7.25, but that bill was killed on a 13-11, party line vote by the Senate.
During a hearing in February, business group representatives told the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee that raising the minimum will costs jobs and hurt the economy, while organized labor and advocates for low-income working poor Granite Staters the hike is a necessity for survival for some.
On the House floor, those arguments were echoed.
Rep. Dan McGuire, R-Epsom, said the bill could be dubbed "the war on youth" because, "The inevitable consequence of passing this is to increase teenage unemployment."
Rep. Romeo Danais, R-Nottingham, also opposing the bill, said, "Minimum wage is for minimum performance, minimum intelligence and minimum training. Nobody grows up dreaming of getting into a minimum wage job."
He also warned an increase will force businesses to increase the salaries of the higher-paid jobs and run into financial difficult.
"This is an increase of all the wages," Danais said, adding that people should be "encouraged to increase their skills set so they'll naturally be paid more money."
But Rep. Charles Weed, D-Keene, countered that studies have shown that the average age of a minimum wage earner is 35 years. And he said minimum wage hikes have been shown to shrink the pay gap between men and women.
"We're doing a lot in moving toward gender equity" by increasing the minimum wage, he said.
He said it will increase loyalty and productivity by workers.
Rep. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, countered that hiking the wage would be "creating another problem with unemployment."
He said the bill, if passed into law, will hurt the young, seniors, part-timers and those who are working at a legal sub-minimum wage.
"What are we accomplishing by doing this?" Daniels asked.
Rep. Andrew White, D-Lebanon, chairman of the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee, said increasing the minimum wage "have a direct impact on 76,000 New Hampshire citizens by 2016."
White said raising the minimum wage is a way to help Granite Staters avoid "government handouts."
White said 72 percent of workers who would benefit are over 20-years-old, 36 percent are at least 30-years-old, 59 percent are women and 14 percent have families.
He said the bill would provide "a moderate, gradual, sustainable investment in New Hampshire's workforce."
White said New Hampshire businesses are paying fair wages and the bill is primarily directed at "large retailers where workers are functionally exploited for their labor."
Although she did not speak on the floor, House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, voiced strong support for the bill in an opinion piece published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Wednesday.
Earlier, Rep. David Murotake, R-Nashua, offered an amendment that would increase the minimum wage to $9 and would eliminate the cost-of-living increase provision. The House killed the amendment, 227-65.
Rep. Sally Kelly, D-Chichester, chief sponsor of the minimum wage bill, said the amendment "kills the ability of workers to sustain the purchasing power of the minimum wage. It takes away their ability to just stay even."
Rep. Will Infantine, R-Manchester, then offered an amendment to increase the wage to $7.50-an-hour and also eliminate indexing. That proposal also was killed, on a vote of 199-95.
Before the vote, Infantine said a jump from $7.25 to $9 is too steep and will hurt businesses.
"The minimum wage is a minimum wage, not a living wage," said Infantine. "It is a starting wage, a learning wage."
Kelly countered, "I don't believe an increase of 25 cents with no further adjustment is the right solution."
At $7.50-a-hour, Kelly said, full-time workers would "continue to earn less than $15,000-a-year."
Kelly also rejected a suggestion that her bill would put local businesses into bankruptcy.
She said that "very large corporations" are paying the minimum wage in the state and small businesses are paying more. She said the bill has the support of New Hampshire-based businesses.
The House also rejected a motion to table the bill, 179-115.
Gov. Maggie Hassan lauded the vote in statement, saying, "In order for economic growth to truly accelerate, working families and individuals must be confident in their own financial circumstances and able to afford critical goods and services.
“This measure will help improve the financial security of working families and people of all ages and will support businesses by putting more money in the pockets of their consumers."