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Constitutional amendment proposal on minimum wage panned, but advances

By DOUG BELDEN, St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL ­— The DFL leaders of the state House and Senate plan to work directly with each other next week on a compromise to end the bogged-down negotiations on a minimum wage increase.

Legislative proposals to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage have stalled in a conference committee seeking to hammer out a compromise between House and Senate versions. Meanwhile, an effort to seek a constitutional amendment linking the wage to inflation passed its first hurdle Friday, despite objections from many on both sides of the wage debate.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he supports pushing the wage to $9.50 an hour and that there could be “numerous ideas” about how to index the wage to inflation. However, “I’m not sure a constitutional amendment is the way to go.”

That’s a reference to a bill put forward this week, co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, that would ask voters in November whether they support adding an annual inflation adjustment to the constitution.

Bakk reiterated Friday that there is not enough support in the Senate to pass a minimum wage bill that contains an inflation index. He also raised the possibility of going higher than a $9.50 wage, which Thissen seemed to resist.

Bakk said he’s confident he and Thissen can reach a deal, possibly next week.

Minnesota’s minimum wage for large employers currently is $6.15, among the lowest in the nation. In practice, most minimum wage jobs in Minnesota pay the federal rate of $7.25 per hour. An increase to $9.50 would make Minnesota one of the highest minimum-wage states.

Earlier Friday, the constitutional amendment bill, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, passed on a mixed voice vote in the Senate jobs committee and is headed for the rules committee, which is chaired by Bakk.

The bill sets the wage at $9.50 by 2015, though a spokesman for Bakk said the official Senate position remains $9.50 by 2016.

It would use the “implicit price deflator” as the metric for inflation. The inflator would kick in in 2017.

Rest said generally she believes things should not go in the constitution if they can be accomplished in statute, but if an issue becomes volatile enough, “it is not unseemly” to send it to voters.