Senate approves minimum wage increase

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state Senate voted Thursday night to increase the minimum wage in Alaska to $7.15 an hour.

The action was a reversal of a vote taken Wednesday.

Senators had voted down the measure 13-7 Wednesday, with several opponents saying they did not like a provision that would automatically adjust the wage upward with increases in the Anchorage consumer price index.

The Senate reconsidered the bill Thursday and approved it 19-1, with only Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, voting no.

The current minimum wage is $5.65 an hour. The increase in House Bill 56 would take effect in January.

The action means an identical citizens' initiative to raise the wage will not appear on this fall's general election ballot.

Senators did not debate the issue and offered no explanation for their change of heart.

There is speculation that Republicans would like to keep the minimum wage issue off the ballot because the measure could draw working-class voters to the polls, who are more likely to vote for Democrats. Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, has said that was not his motivation for sponsoring the bill.

Kott had proposed a smaller increase in 2001, but changed his bill this year to match the ballot initiative.

He has said it is better for the Legislature to address the measure than leave it to voters.

That way, if legislators decide to change the inflation provision, they can do so next year, Kott said. If the change were made through a ballot initiative, they'd have to wait two years.

Both the Senate and the House have also approved a bill that would let remote seafood processors deduct room and board from their workers' pay even if that drops their take-home pay below minimum wage.

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