ANCHORAGE -- A spokeswoman for the state Division of Elections said Friday petitioners for a citizen vote on increasing the minimum wage likely have collected the required minimum of 28,783 registered voters' signatures.
If the initiative reaches the ballot, voters will have a chance to increase the state's minimum wage to $7.15 per hour in 2002. Now, it's $5.65 per hour, 50 cents higher than the federal minimum.
Alaska AFL-CIO executive president Mano Frey said the organization had amassed 50,000 signatures.
The move puts pressure on lawmakers who could not agree last session on what a raise should look like. Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said the Legislature can let voters decide the issue or try to craft legislation similar enough to the initiative to warrant its removal from the ballot.
Sen. Randy Phillips, chairman of the committee holding the bills, said he'll decide by late winter whether or not to move the bill.
''I'm going to ask both sides if they want to take their chances with the voters or if they want something to pass this Legislature,'' said Phillips, R-Eagle River.
Bills to raise the wage were introduced early this year in the House and Senate. Gov. Tony Knowles' version would tie the minimum wage to inflation, which last spring labor liked but business didn't.
Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, called for an increase of $1.25 over two years.
Kott and Rep. Norman Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, wanted to add provisions that follow federal law: a tip credit that counts tips toward minimum wage, and a provision to pay young entry-level workers at less than minimum wage during training.
Leman said Friday he was concerned the ballot initiative could backfire, cutting the availability of entry-level jobs.
''If you ask somebody, 'Do you want to make more money?' they're going to say, 'Yeah,''' he said, but maybe not at the expense of a neighbor's job.
Karen Brand, state Chamber of Commerce vice president, said a poll this year showed members evenly split between for, neutral and against a raise.
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