Minimum wage hike plan gets go-ahead

ANCHORAGE — The organizers of a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Alaska have been given the go-ahead to begin collecting signatures, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said Monday.

Treadwell, whose office oversees elections, notified the petition sponsors, former Alaska Labor Commissioners Ed Flanagan, Tom Cashen and Jim Samson. Organizers will have one year to gather the 31,169 signatures required to qualify the measure for the ballot.

However, Flanagan told The Associated Press Monday that they want to deliver the signatures by January so the initiative will appear on the 2014 ballot.

“They give you a year, but if it goes past Jan. 9, then it wouldn’t be on the ballot until 2016 and we definitely want to be on the ballot in 2014,” he said.

The initiative would increase Alaska’s minimum wage from $7.75 an hour to $8.75 as of Jan. 1, 2015, then $9.75 as of Jan. 1, 2016. After that, it will be adjusted for inflation but always be $1 higher than the federal minimum wage.

“I’m not saying it’s a living wage, but it’s certainly an improvement,” Flanagan said.

The proposed initiative includes language stating that Alaskans working full-time at the current minimum wage “earn far below the federal poverty level for a family of three.” It also notes that California, Oregon and Washington — other West Coast states — have higher minimum wages than Alaska.

In 2002, the Legislature pre-empted a proposed initiative by passing a measure to raise the minimum wage and allow it to be adjusted for inflation. The measure also said the minimum wage should be either the most recent wage adjusted for inflation or $1 more than the federal minimum wage, whichever was greater. The Legislature can pre-empt initiatives that qualify for the ballot by passing substantially similar legislation.

A year after passing the bill, however, lawmakers stripped the inflation adjustment requirement and reference to the minimum wage being $1 higher than the federal level.

The 2002 bill put Alaska’s minimum wage at $7.15 an hour. If that wage had been adjusted for inflation, it would be at $9.09 an hour today, Flanagan said.

The petition is “clearly needed because our state minimum wage has lost so much value due to inflation,” Flanagan said.

In 2009, the Legislature passed a measure stating that, beginning in 2010, the minimum wage had to be at least 50 cents more than the federal minimum wage. That’s where it stands currently, at $7.75 an hour.