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Wage hike bill revised

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2002

JUNEAU -- The House Finance Committee approved a Republican plan to raise the state's minimum wage and duplicate a labor union's initiative set to go on the November ballot.

The measure could result in the initiative being removed from the ballot, committee members said.

Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, offered the amendment in response to early reports that a not-as-yet released attorney general's opinion would conclude that the Republican plan is not similar enough to remove the initiative from the ballot.

The House Finance Committee approved the amended bill on Wednesday. Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, voted against the measure, arguing Alaskans should be allowed to vote on the initiative.

But Don Etheridge, of the Alaska State District Council of Laborers, said Republicans want to remove the initiative from the ballot to keep Democrat-leaning voters from the polls.

Republicans hold a majority in both the House and Senate. But redistricting has forced all but three incumbents to seek re-election this year.

''They don't want the more liberal voter out (on Election Day), is what I believe. That's what a lot of our membership is counting on, that it will bring out the more liberal voter,'' Etheridge said.

There's widespread support for an increase in Alaska's minimum wage and a ballot initiative would likely drive such voters to the polls, Etheridge said.

Union organizers waged a petition campaign to get the measure on the ballot after failed attempts to win support for a minimum wage increase within the Legislature, Etheridge said.

Kott's bill would raise the minimum wage to $7.15 and provide for future automatic increases equal to the state's consumer price index.

It duplicates language on the ballot initiative pushed by the AFL-CIO and other groups.

State law requires that a ballot initiative be removed if a new law passed by the Legislature is substantially similar. But the final arbiter of that decision would be Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer and the attorney general's office.

Ulmer is seeking the Democrat nomination to run for governor and Republicans in the House previously expressed fear that her opinion would be partisan.

House Finance co-chair Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, acknowledged that in his ''conservative blue-collar'' district polls show more than 70 percent support for an increase.

But Mulder said he favors a minimum wage increase structured like the federal system, which does not provide automatic cost of living increases.

''We all would like to get a guaranteed raise every year. The question is the size of the raise,'' Mulder said.

Mulder said his caucus has expressed concern about the kinds of voters that would turn out in November if such a ballot initiative were to survive. But he said, ''It's speculation at best.''



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