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May 08. 2014 8:40PM

Senate kills minimum wage increase

CONCORD — A party-line 13-11 Senate vote Thursday ended any possibility of the minimum wage rising in New Hampshire next year.

During the 90-minute debate, every Democrat spoke for House Bill 1403, all saying the increase would help those struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table, while helping to spur the economy.

“Those who want to rely solely on the market to determine wages,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, “(need to remember) the markets have a long history of indifference to the plight of the impoverished.”

Republicans argued the bill would cost jobs, especially those held by teenagers who they claim hold half of minimum-wage jobs.

“It’s a discouraging day to sit here and listen to what has truly become the war on employers,” said Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bradford. “We’re seeing tax after tax, fee after fee. There is only so much people can pay.”

The bill would have raised the minimum wage in New Hampshire from the federally set $7.25 an hour to $8.25 an hour Jan. 1, 2015, and to $9 a year later. After that, the wage would be tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Like current law, the bill would have provided employees who earn $30 or more a month from tips with a base salary of 45 percent of the minimum wage.

The bill also would have re-established a state minimum wage, which lawmakers repealed three years ago, making the state rely on the federal law.

After the vote, Gov. Maggie Hassan, who supports increasing the minimum wage, said she was disappointed.

“Restoring and increasing New Hampshire’s minimum wage would strengthen our economy and support businesses by putting more money in the pockets of their consumers,” Hassan said. “People working full-time in New Hampshire should be paid enough to support their families, and I will continue fighting to restore and improve our state minimum wage in order to boost our economy and strengthen the economic security of thousands of Granite Staters,”

Business organizations said Senate Republicans made the right decision.

“A 24 percent increase on small employers would have dampened the demand for workers and that’s not good economic policy,” said Bruce Berke, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “We want to increase the demand for labor and we want to expand opportunities for low-skilled workers to break into the workforce and work their way up. This would have accomplished exactly the opposite.”

He said Senate leaders deserve credit for resisting political pressure.

“President Obama has been to the region to push for a higher minimum wage and the issue has gotten a lot of national and local attention,” said Berke. “It took real courage to stand up to that.”

Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said the bill would undo all the good work that has been done over the last three years.

“We need to get New Hampshire’s economy growing again. We don’t need feel-good legislation that will hurt the people it claims to help,” Bragdon said. “Let’s get young people into the workforce, and starting up the economic ladder.”

But Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, said while she loves New Hampshire, sometimes she is embarrassed by the state.

“We live in a state with close to the highest per-capita income in the nation,” Gilmour said, “yet we have the lowest minimum wage in New England.”

The bill had passed the Democratically controlled House on a 173-118 vote, also largely down party lines.

grayno@unionleader.com


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