Wisconsin’s Democratic lawmakers are making another play to increase the state’s minimum wage. Their bill, which has broad support from the left, faces long odds in the Republican-controlled legislature.
It’s been 12 years since the federal minimum wage, which Wisconsin adheres to, was increased to $7.25 an hour.
Or, as Senator Melissa Agard, a Democrat from Madison, put it at a press conference this morning: “I’ve Got a Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas was the number one song on the chart. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was topping our box offices. It’s been 4,346 days since we’ve had a minimum wage increase here in Wisconsin. That’s embarrassing and shameful.”
A similar proposal was included in the Governor’s 2021-2023 state budget. But, the legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee tossed that provision during its first meeting in May.
Agard says that the bill, which she’s a lead co-sponsor on, includes four key changes.
“One, it raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour after a one-year transition period,” she says. “It indexes that wage increase to inflation. It restores local control, by repealing law prohibitions to municipalities from establishing minimum wages in their communities, and it eliminates the tip credit.”
According to the Pew Research Center, more than sixty percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Twenty nine states have all raised their minimum wage above the federal floor of $7.25. That includes Wisconsin’s neighboring states of Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois.
A 2019 poll by Marquette University found that 55% percent of Wisconsinites support raising the minimum wage, with 39 percent in opposition.
Laura Dresser, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty, says that the proposal even has the support of many Republican voters.
“This is a popular policy, and it’s popular because people think work should come with reward. It consistently wins, even if you have a referendum in a Republican state — the minimum wage will increase,” Dresser says.
But, according to Pew, conservative support for raising the minimum wage varies based on income. Nearly half of lower-income Republican voters endorse increasing the minimum wage, while only about twenty percent of higher-income Republicans support the hike.
Even with popular support, the Democrats’ proposal faces long odds in the Republican-controlled legislature. A similar proposal died last year without even receiving a vote — although it was introduced after the conclusion of the legislative session.
The minimum wage legislation is currently circulating for cosponsors. Agard says the bill already has more than twenty cosponsors. The legislation that died last session had about thirty cosponsors.
PHOTO: Jonah Chester