The secretary of state’s office has certified a proposal to increase the state minimum wage for the Nov. 4 election ballot.
The measure, pushed by a coalition of labor, Democratic and progressive organizations, would raise the existing minimum wage of $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017. Every significant Democratic candidate has expressed support for the issue. No Republican candidate has announced support for it.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson — perhaps tipped by friends in the Republican secretary of state’s office that approval was forthcoming — just happened to issue a news release yesterday expressing general support for an increase in the minimum wage. The statement did NOT express support for the referred act, as some seem to think. I have twice asked his campaign 1) if he supports the ballot initiative and 2) if he will vote for it. He’s on the record firmly with multiple statements in OPPOSITION to the ballot initiative. He has said he favors an increase by the legislature, and only to $7.25, and only if economic circumstances permit. Since 2006, the legislature has been unwilling to raise the minimum wage, lowest in the country except for a couple of states with no minimum. Asa Hutchinson also said yesterday he supported a “living wage” for Arkansans. What a joke. That’s an economic term that signifies an amount necessary to sustain support from income. In Pulaski County, that currently means $8.53 an hour for a single adult and $17 an hour for an adult and a child. It hardly squares with the $7.25 (the federal minimum) he says he supports.
The petition drive needed 62,507 signatures. The drive — because of some problems in form of the petitions and a number of disqualifications — barely made the count of facially acceptable signatures to qualify for an additional 30 days of canvassing. More than 70,000 additional signatures were turned in and the secretary of state has now certified that the requisite number of valid signatures of registered voters were submitted.
The secretary of state’s office said sponsors turned in a total of 129,989 signatures for verification and, as of this morning, 70,074 had been verified. Verification will continue.
No formal challenge of this measure has been mounted yet, though Republican-friendly sources, including an attorney for the state GOP, monitored this effort. A separate effort to allow alcohol sales statewide has drawn more legal scrutiny, including an argument that the secretary of state’s decision to extend the initial deadline to July 7 because state offices were closed on July 4 wasn’t allowed by the Constitution. If that argument is mounted against the alcohol measure and prevails, it could still hold peril for the minimum wage proposal.
Sen. Mark Pryor has already reiterated his support and called on Republican opponent Tom Cotton to join in support of this “common sense” proposal. He won’t be holding his breath. The same for the congressional candidates. My favorite in this lot is Republican millionaire banker J. French Hill, the putative ninth-generation Arkansans, who’s on the record in opposition to a minimum wage, period. He’s running against former North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays, who supports the minimum wage increase, as do 1st District and 4th District candidates Jackie McPherson and James Lee Witt.
The increase would help 170,000 people and polls show the idea enjoys broad support among voters.
Among other statements, Democratic Party Chair Vince Insalaco noted that Tom Cotton has said in the past that he was “studying” the issue. “Study hall is over,” Insalaco said.