JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska's minimum wage would increase under a House Republican's bill that partly echoes a proposal floated by Gov. Tony Knowles earlier this week.
The measure sponsored by Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, would boost the minimum wage from the current $5.65 to $6.40 in 2002 and $6.90 in 2003.
''At least it brings that small group of individuals -- the working poor -- up to a different level,'' said Kott. Although Knowles proposed a minimum wage increase in his State of the State speech on Wednesday, Kott said he'd been thinking about the idea since his campaign for mayor of Anchorage last year.
Kott, the powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee, said relatively few workers make the minimum wage in Alaska anyway. The state's minimum wage is the lowest on the West Coast and often becomes irrelevant in a tight labor market.
''I don't think it will have a dramatic impact on businesses and employers,'' said Kott, who figures workers in the restaurant, tourism and fish processing businesses will see the most benefit.
Employers of minimum-wage employees often oppose increases because they raise the cost of doing business.
It's difficult to tell just how many Alaskans earn the minimum wage because the state has no payroll tax, said Brynn Keith, a labor economist with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
A department survey during the fourth quarter of 1998 found that 5.5 percent of workers who are paid on an hourly basis -- about 14,000 people -- earned between $5.65 and $6.74 per hour, Keith said. Because the survey was conducted near the end of the year instead of during the busy summer fishing and tourist season, it could underestimate the number of minimum-wage jobs, Keith said.
Kott's bill doesn't contain one part of Knowles' proposal -- automatic increases for inflation. Kott and other Republicans in the Legislature seem dubious about a law that would allow for open-ended increases.
A spokesman for Knowles said the governor, a Democrat, would continue to advocate a provision that would boost the minimum wage automatically to keep up with inflation.
''It's a good start,'' said Bob King, Knowles' press secretary.
With Kott and other prominent lawmakers backing the measure, it may have a good chance in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Senate President Rick Halford, R-Chugiak, said he would support it.
''We pay babysitters more than the minimum wage,'' Halford said.
The bill was referred to the House Labor and Commerce committee, where Kott expects a hearing later this month.
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