Minimum wage

Genara Clay of Deering was among low-wage workers who spoke at a rally in front of the State House in September 2018 to call on government to increase the minimum wage businesses must pay workers.

CONCORD — A proposal to raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022 awaits a decision by Gov. Chris Sununu, who is expected to veto the bill despite an ongoing effort by supporters who say they will continue to push for a higher minimum in the Granite State.

SB 10 calls for the state minimum wage to increase from $7.25 currently to $10 per hour in 2020, then another increase to $12 per hour in 2022. The bill passed both the New Hampshire House and Senate despite not having a single Republican in either chamber vote in its favor.

That leaves its fate up to Sununu, a Republican who has said he thinks the minimum wage should be left to federal discretion. Although a veto remained likely, supporters of SB 10 are hoping Sununu signs the bill rather than veto it.

“There’s always hope,” said Rep. Brian Sullivan, chairman of the House Labor Committee.

Sullivan is among a handful of state lawmakers who have agreed to participate in what they are calling the “minimum wage challenge” — attempting to live for a week on a budget based on an income of the current state minimum, which is also the national rate. They have also invited Sununu to join them, although the governor thus far has not accepted the invitation to join the challenge, which begins next week.

“If he did, perhaps he would better understand the dilemma of low wage workers,” Sullivan said.

Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said Monday that SB 10, which only passed the Senate last week, has not reached the governor’s desk yet. When it does, Vihstadt said Sununu will have five business days to sign it, issue a veto or let the bill become law without a signature.

A veto appeared to remain the most likely choice. “As Gov. Sununu has long stated, he opposes a state minimum wage, believing it should be set at the federal level,” Vihstadt said in statement. “With record low unemployment, some of the highest median incomes in the country, and the lowest poverty rate in the nation, New Hampshire’s economic model is a success story.”

Supporters of the increase say it’s necessary for New Hampshire to keep up with its neighbors. New Hampshire’s minimum wage is at least $3 lower than the current minimum in the neighboring states of Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts. Maine’s minimum wage increased to $11 per hour on Jan. 1 and goes up to $12 hourly next year. Massachusetts has a $12 minimum wage and Vermont’s is currently $10.78, a rate that state law calls for increasing annually for inflation with the Consumer Price Index. All three neighboring states have adjusted minimums for service or tipped employees with lower hourly rates plus a tip credit.

Under SB 10, New Hampshire would set the wage for tipped employees at 45% of the minimum wage, with tipped employees guaranteed to earn at least $12 for all hours worked at the end of each pay period.

Opponents have maintained that SB 10 would hurt small businesses in the Granite State.

Sullivan said it would also help a great deal of people who can’t afford basic living costs at the current minimum. Although many Granite Staters are well above the minimum with jobs averaging in the $10-$12 hourly range, Sullivan said too many others fall well below that threshold.

That’s one of the reasons Sullivan said he agreed to join some of his colleagues, who introduced the challenge at a news conference Monday with a number of organizations that have been helping push for the higher minimum wage. Rep. Mark King, Rep. Kris Schultz and Sen. Dan Feltes also signed on to participate in the challenge, which begins July 8.

“It can get complex,” Sullivan said. “Part of it is simply researching and coming to grips with what it would be like to be a low wage worker or minimum wage worker.”

Sullivan said he expected finding housing he could afford at those wages would be difficult, if not impossible, and leave little to cover other essentials — like food.

Sullivan recalled being a newlywed and keeping a running tab with a calculator as he and his wife shopped for groceries.

“If we couldn’t afford it all we’d put some stuff back,” he said. “I think we might be back to that next week.”

If Sununu does veto SB 10, Sullivan said both the House and Senate retained bills that can be brought right back up in next year’s session.

“We’re hoping the governor will sign this one,” Sullivan said.