(UM Legislative News Service) Lawmakers in the House Business and Labor Committee voted down a bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.
During the hearing on House Bill 345, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena, referenced President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, in which he commented that the U.S. economy is experiencing a miracle.
“So many of our workers are left out of that economic miracle,” Dunwell said.
The bill applies specifically to non-agriculture workers, and would increase the minimum wage from $8.50 per hour to $12 per hour starting this July, and to $15 the following year.
Dunwell cited an article in the National Journal which stated that today’s minimum wage is worth 25 percent less than its value in 1960. While Montana’s minimum wage is adjusted based on consumer prices, Dunwell said it does not necessarily account for inflation.
Dunwell told the committee a wage increase would mean a decrease in the cost of safety-net social programs, saving taxpayers money. She also argued the raise would boost employee productivity and reduce turnover.
Judy Bovington, the chief legal counsel for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, also spoke in support of the bill on behalf of the governor’s office. She said 60-65 percent of minimum wage workers are women, half are over the age of 25 and that this bill would affect 16 percent of Montana’s workers.
“[The American Dream] should mean people who work hard every day are able to take care of their families,” Bovington said.
Members from the business community spoke in opposition of the bill.
A lobbyist for the Montana Retail and Restaurant Associations, Brad Griffin, said this bill does not account for service industry workers who get substantial tips. He said the free market is already answering the demand for workers and higher wages, and that it could hurt businesses to pay more.
“We don’t have the economic engine to push these wages,” Griffin said.
The bill was tabled in committee, so it will not move forward unless it can get 58 votes from the full House of Representatives to move it onto the House floor for debate.
Shaylee Ragar and Tim Pierce are reporters with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Newspaper Association, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation. Shaylee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim can be reached at email@example.com.