December 30, 2013

In governor races, Democrats eye wage increase

Potential challengers, like Mike Michaud of Maine, see talk of an increase as key to unseating Republican incumbents.

By Marc Levy
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks to reporters at the State House in Augusta.

The Associated Press

Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a news conference on Nova Star Cruises at the Ocean Gateway Terminal in Portland on Nov. 18.

If vulnerable Republicans aren’t budging on the issue, neither are the big-business groups that tend to back them. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warns that small employers will have the hardest time absorbing higher labor costs, while the National Federation of Independent Business warned of job losses.

“We’re not going to waver,” said NFIB spokeswoman Jean Card. “It’s the kind of thing that sounds good, but rarely are polling questions backed up with the kind of economic downside that’s inevitable.”

For Democrats, Obama got the ball rolling on the issue by calling for an increase in his February budget speech, and union-organized demonstrations in front of profitable mega-chains such as Walmart and McDonald’s have kept it in the public eye.

And it’s not only a popular issue with the labor unions that often provide money and volunteers to help power Democrats’ campaigns – the public warmly embraces it, too.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey this month found that more than six in 10 voting-age adults said they would support an increase of the federal minimum wage from $7.25, where it was last raised in 2009, to $10.10 an hour. Support to raise it to $12.50 fell to about four in 10 and fewer than three in 10 supported an increase to $15 an hour. A CBS News poll in November found that just one in four would like the federal minimum wage to remain at $7.25.

Some Democrats may nevertheless approach the issue with caution.

Mary Burke, who is expected to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Wisconsin’s Walker, said she supports legislation there to increase the minimum wage by a relatively modest 35 cents an hour to $7.60.

Beyond that, the former state commerce secretary and daughter of Trek Bicycle’s founder said a gradual and fair increase in the minimum wage could avoid economic harm. While she wasn’t prepared to say what that is, the subject will be prominent in her campaign, Burke said.

“This race is going to be about jobs and people being able to support themselves,” Burke said, “and that is an important way we can help more people move toward economic independence.”

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