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Raising minimum wage argued at House hearing

By GARRY RAYNO
State House Bureau

February 10. 2015 11:49PM




CONCORD — New Hampshire taxpayers should not have to subsidize large national corporations because they decide to pay their workers minimum wages the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Service Committee was told Tuesday.

The committee had a public hearing on four bills that would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, where it has been since 2009.

The prime sponsor of House Bill 684, which would gradually raise the state minimum wage to $14.25 by 2018, Rep. Jackie Cilley, D-Barrington, told the committee there should be bipartisan support for her bill, because it will also reduce the need for government services.

“The bottom line is America spends $259 billion annually for social welfare programs to benefit the working poor,” Cilley said, because large national corporations “socialize their costs” to taxpayers.

Her tax dollars should not be subsidizing corporations who pay their executives exorbitant salaries and their workers sub-livable wages, Cilley said.

But opponents called the wage-raising effort a job killer that will be one more nail in the coffin for the state’s business community.

“The minimum wage was never intended to be a livable wage,” House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline, told the committee, adding it was intended to allow an employer to take a risk on a worker entering the workforce.

He said raising the minimum wage has “the potential to negatively affect our job climate in New Hampshire and could threaten the viability of many small and medium-sized businesses especially in the hospitality industry, which many workers in our state depend on.”

He said an increase of up to 114 percent as one bill would do, is not affordable for many companies that would either have to lay off workers or raise prices.

New Hampshire and 30 other states do not have their own minimum wage, and instead rely on the federal minimum, which is $7.25 an hour.

However, New Hampshire is the only New England state to rely on the federal wage and also has the lowest rate in the region.

The four bills would all raise the wage, several gradually and one immediately to $16 an hour.

Rep. Tim Robertson, D-Keene, wants cities, towns and counties to be able to set their own minimum wage.

“I am for any change in a positive direction,” Robertson said, noting an increase will help create jobs because a person working two jobs to make ends meet could afford to drop one of them.

Rep. Andrew White, D-Lebanon, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 392 which would raise the minimum wage gradually to $10 an hour by 2018 and then would increase at the rate of inflation.

“I believe New Hampshire workers deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” White said. “We’re talking about New Hampshire workers supporting New Hampshire businesses.”

Supporters of increasing the wage said the majority of workers who would benefit are over 20 years old and the majority of those workers are women.

Supporters said study after study shows social service costs drop when the minimum wage rises.

“People should not be guided on how to apply for food stamps and fuel assistance as part of their company’s orientation,” said Richard Gulla, president of the State Employees Association.

But opponents argued raising the wage would hurt young people and those entering the workforce and put upward pressure on wages for other workers.

Henry Veillleux of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association said increasing the minimum wage would limit the opportunities for workers entering the workforce.

He said the increase would only affect about 5,000 workers, noting others earning less than minimum wage are tipped employees who earn more than the minimum when tips are included.

Other business groups including the Business and Industry Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses also oppose increasing the minimum wage.

The committee did not make immediate recommendations on the bills.

grayno@unionleader.com


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