Legislature: Minimum Wage Proposal Dead

by Judy Ferro

A proposal to increase the minimum wage in Idaho was introduced—and shot down—last week.

According to the Spokesman Review, Sen. Maryanne Jordan and Rep. Mat Erpelding, both Boise Democrats, proposed raising Idaho’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour on July 1, 2016, and to $9.75 a year later. “The minimum wage for tipped workers would rise from the current $3.30 an hour to $3.80 an hour…After that, both would be adjusted annually based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.”

Nampan Curt McKenzie, chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, blocked the printing of the bill. “I didn’t see any indication that this is an issue the governor’s office supports. I don’t believe that there are the votes in the Senate State Affairs Committee or in the full Senate or House, if it got there. I don’t think it’s supported by my constituents.”

Note “the constituents” did get a mention after the governor’s office and the legislature, but that’s subject to interpretation.

McKenzie admitted he didn’t actually know how his constituents felt, but “I don’t see this as an issue that my party, the Republican Party, general advances. My district has been consistently Republican…for a long time.”

So when McKenzie says “constituents” he doesn’t include the Democrats and independents in his district, he means “Republican Party” or, more accurately, the “Republican Party Establishment.”

I wouldn’t say that if McKenzie hadn’t dismissed a reporter’s reminder that the Republican rank-and-file support increasing the minimum wage. A Dan Jones & Associates poll last spring found that 56% of Idaho Republicans—and 70% of all Idahoans–favored a $10-an-hour minimum wage. Somehow, support by grassroots Republicans doesn’t carry much weight with McKenzie.

To understand just what a serious insult this is, consider that three proposals by Bonner County Republican Heather Scott. Republican members of the House Resources Committee found the bills baffling and amusing. Noting that one proposal would authorize fish and game check stations only to stop “licensed hunters and fishermen,” the committee chair questioned how anyone could tell if a car had licensed hunters inside. A fellow asked if this meant that poachers need not stop. A third said, “I’m not sure yet that I quite understand completely what it’s trying to communicate there.”

All three proposals are now printed bills. No one seemed concerned whether the Governor, a majority of the legislature, or the Republican Party Establishment supported them.

In sharp contrast to McKenzie’s actions, Lee Heider, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, has scheduled a hearing tomorrow on Democratic senator Dan Schmidt’s proposals to expand Medicaid.

Medicaid reform is a dangerous “third rail” for many Idaho Republicans. Ultra-conservatives attacks on moderate Republicans who supported an Idaho insurance exchange under Obamacare indicate supporting Obama proposal could weaken the party’s moderates.

Yet, legislators recognize that something needs to be done. Rep. John Rusche said estimates are that we “have allowed (caused?) more than 350 preventable deaths in our low income population in the [last] 24 months.”

Gov. Otter is concerned enough that he is asking for $30 million to cover primary doctor visits for Idaho’s 78,000 uninsured members of working families. Medication, hospitalization, and specialists, e.g. eye doctors or orthopedists, would not be covered. Would this save 100 lives? Fifty? None? It’s anyone’s guess.

So kudos to Lee Heider for supporting discussion of Schmidt’s bills. It is a step in the right direction.

And, if you want to let Sen. McKenzie know how you feel about the minimum wage, you can call his office (208) 344-4379 or email him through http://legislature.idaho.gov/about/contactbyname.cfm.

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