By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
An increase in the state's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour is nearly law, making Minnesota the latest state controlled by Democrats to offer the lowest wage workers a boost.
The final House vote of 71-60 delivers the measure to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who says he will be happy to sign it into law, and brings to an end a multiyear debate among Democrats about the wage floor. President Obama celebrated the move.
"I commend the state Legislature for raising their minimum wage and we look forward to Governor Dayton signing the bill into law soon," Obama said in a statement. "Congress should listen to the majority of Americans who say it's time to give America a raise and help ensure that no American who works full time has to raise a family in poverty."
Dayton will sign the legislation on Monday, his office said. Many business groups have greeted the Minnesota's coming wage jump with dismay, saying it will force them to raise prices or cut employees.
In 2016, when the measure is fully phased in, most Minnesota businesses would have to pay workers at least $9.50 an hour. Minnesota currently mandates most businesses pay employees at least $6.15 an hour, one of the lowest in the nation and below the federal standard of $7.25 an hour.
"Find it in your heart to put a couple of extra dollars in the pocket of poor people in your districts," Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, pleaded with his colleagues.
According to state figures, about 350,000 Minnesota workers earn less than $9.50 an hour.
On the House floor, Republicans decried the wage hike.
"I do support the minimum wage increase, too, but I believe it has to be a little bit more moderate than what we have now," said Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlain. "To me this is too much too fast."
The impasse between the DFL House and Senate over minimum wage broke in recent days after DFL senators agreed to allow future wage increases to be linked to inflation. The final measure makes that link so that the wage will rise as costs go up.
The law would cap those increases at 2.5 percent, or about a quarter an hour for the first bump. During a significant economic downturn, the state could halt the automatic increase for a year.
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