WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate today approved a Republican measure raising the minimum wage by $1 over three years and cutting business taxes after rejecting a more modest Democratic alternative.

Senators voted 54-44 to increase the $5.15-an-hour minimum wage and for a companion tax cut of $18.4 billion over five years that would be financed by projected budget surpluses.

``We're talking about tax relief for small business, not the wealthiest,'' said Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn.

A few minutes earlier, the Senate rejected the Democratic version on a 50-48 vote. It would have raised the minimum wage by $1 over 13 months and provided $9.6 billion in business tax relief.

If the GOP bill becomes law, the minimum wage would rise by 35 cents in March 2000, 35 cents in March 2001 and 30 cents in March 2002. About 11 million workers earn the minimum wage, half of them younger workers under age 24 and many holders of part-time jobs.