Steve Copley, chair of the Give Arkansas a Raise Now Coalition to raise the Arkansas minimum wage, tells me that the group has 75,000 signatures on the proposal to raise the $6.25-an-hour minimum wage to $8.50 by 2017.
It needs 62,507 signatures to reach the ballot. That means the secretary of state’s office must validate more than 83 percent of the signatures in hand. That would be an uncommonly high validation rate, even though the campaign employed people who went door to door for signatures. That would produce a greater likelihood, for example, that those who signed lived at the addresses given. Shopping center and festival canvassing frequently produces much lower validation rates.
Canvassing has stopped for the time being, Copley said. Available money has all but been spent. The group is getting petitions in order. In addition to the total count, the group must produce substantial signatures in 15 counties.
“We are prepared we may have to cure it,” Copley said. A 70 percent validation rate — a fairly good number in this business — would leave the group 10,000 signatures short.
Petitions must be submitted by Monday, July 7, though these could be filed tomorrow, before the July 4 holiday. If they are found insufficient, the group will have 30 days to gather additional signatures.
Copley said the group could raise whatever money was necessary to get additional signatures. GARN has raised and spent about $10,000. The big money has passed through the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance, which Copley also heads. It has spent $376,000, but had only $2,890 on hand according to a June 16 report. The money has been spent in lump sums in checks to the Markham Group, which has reported expenditures on paid canvassers and other expenses.
Unions, including a $50,000 contribution from the National Education Association and $50,000 from the Laborers, have contributed most of the money. The Democratic Party of Arkansas has given $10,000.
Interest is high in raising the minimum wage in Arkansas not only for benefit of workers, who labor under the lowest minimum in the country. It is a key issue for Democratic politicians. The hope is that support for the minimum wage will translate into vote for Democrats, particularly those at the top of the ticket — Mike Ross for governor and Mark Pryor for senator, both of whom have endorsed the initiative. Ross’ Republican opponent Asa Hutchinson has already said he opposes the ballot initiative. Pryor’s opponent Tom Cotton won’t declare on the ballot initiative because it hasn’t qualified for the ballot. But he has opposed other minimum wage proposals.