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$9 minimum wage for Louisiana workers shelved, lacking votes

By MELINDA DESLATTEMay 21, 2019

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A New Orleans senator on Tuesday scrapped his latest bid to raise Louisiana’s minimum wage, saying he doesn’t have the votes for passage.

It marked the fourth year of defeat for an effort backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards to boost the base pay for an estimated 200,000 workers.

The proposal by Democratic Sen. Troy Carter would have set Louisiana’s minimum wage at $9 per hour, up from the $7.25-per-hour federal level.

“This is the most basic ask. We give tax breaks to people who collect antique airplanes ... but we can’t give the people of Louisiana a living wage. Shame on us if we continue to let this be our legacy,” Carter said.

But then he declared: “We are woefully short. We do not have the votes.”

Carter proposed to let voters decide the wage hike’s fate through a constitutional amendment, but that would take two-thirds backing from the House and Senate, too high a hurdle for him to reach. The House labor committee already has killed a separate bill that would have given municipalities the authority to set their own minimum wage rates.

Carter didn’t shelve his proposal Tuesday until he and other Democrats lamented that their colleagues in the majority-Republican chamber wouldn’t support the wage hike. They told stories about men and women working multiple minimum wage jobs, still struggling to feed their families.

“There are people who are trying their hardest to make ends meet. They’re not standing in line waiting for a welfare check,” said Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, a Democrat from Lafayette. “What do we tell our people?”

Backers of the bill pointed to 29 other states that set a minimum wage higher than the federal rate, such as Arkansas, which passed an $11-an-hour minimum wage ballot initiative. They noted public opinion polls show a minimum wage increase is popular in Louisiana.

No one spoke against the measure on the Senate floor Tuesday. But business groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, opposed the increase as an improper intrusion into the free market and companies’ decision-making.

During committee debate, business lobbyists said Louisiana’s economy lags the nation in growth and employment levels, and forced wage increases would exacerbate job losses. They said that while Arkansas raised its minimum wage, Louisiana’s neighboring states of Texas and Mississippi haven’t raised their minimum wages beyond the $7.25 federal level.

The Louisiana Budget Project, a left-leaning group that advocates for low- to moderate-income families, said more than one in 10 workers in the state, 215,000 people, would have received a pay raise under Carter’s proposal.

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Senate Bill 155: www.legis.la.gov

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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