Big Sky Roundup

Senate panel votes down minimum wage increase

By: - February 16, 2021 1:31 pm

(Photo illustration by Getty Images.)

A Senate panel Thursday tabled legislation that would gradually increase Montana’s minimum wage to $12 an hour, likely spelling an end to efforts to increase the wage this session.

Lawmakers on the Senate Business, Labor and Economic affairs voted down a motion to send the bill to the floor, 5-6, with the committee’s chair, Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, raising concerns that increasing the minimum wage could have an adverse effect on employment.

Senate Bill 187, proposed by Philipsburg Democratic Sen. Mark Sweeney, would increase the state’s minimum hourly wage to $10 in 2022, adding a dollar each year until 2024. Montana’s current minimum wage is $8.75 an hour.

Sweeney has marketed the bill as an incremental approach to bettering the lives of low-wage workers in the state without expanding government programs. The buying power of the minimum wage has eroded during the years, and a gulf has widened between Montana’s minimum hourly wage and its median hourly wage. At the same time, the number of minimum wage hours worked by adults as opposed to teenagers in their first jobs — the demographic that opponents of wage increases often cite — has increased.

“As a business person, I think there’s a very glaring hole in the bucket,” said Sen. Christopher Pope, D-Bozeman. “People who are working very hard in this world…are not being recompensed, and I think it’s time for the business community to stand tall.”

Sweeney said he wasn’t expecting his bill to pass on the Senate floor, but that nonetheless he hoped it could advance out of committee in order to generate discussion on the minimum wage in front of the full body.

A whole cottage industry of economics is devoted to studying the impact of minimum wage increases on employment, with varying results. Fitzpatrick, in explaining his no vote, cited research showing a negative impact on employment in Seattle following the implementation of a $15 minimum wage there.

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.