Sponsors of an initiative to raise Alaska’s minimum wage have turned in their signatures. They submitted 43,000 names to the Division of Election’s Anchorage office on Friday morning.
The initiative would raise the minimum wage from $7.75 to $8.75 at first, and then there would be another bump up to $9.75 in 2016. The initiative also builds in future increases to counteract inflation. Basically, the minimum wage would be pegged to Anchorage’s consumer price index or it would be a dollar more than the federal minimum wage — whichever is higher.
Ed Flanagan is one of the primary sponsors of the initiative and a former labor commissioner. He says Alaska should have a higher minimum wage than most states because of the cost of living.
“We don’t necessarily have to be the highest in the country, but we sure as heck shouldn’t be 17th behind Florida and Arizona,” says Flanagan.
With signatures in, Flanagan says the group will be focusing more on fundraising and advertising. When the year closed, “Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage” had just $10,000 in cash on hand. And with lots of other big-money races this year, they’ll need a lot more than that to compete for airtime.
In the short-term, Flanagan isn’t worried about other groups opposing the minimum wage increase. He’s more concerned about the initiative being preempted by the Legislature, which happened the last time a citizen effort like this was attempted. In 2002, state lawmakers passed a bill that resembled a minimum wage initiative under consideration, but then they went back and stripped out the measures tying the pay rate to inflation.
“We have to be ready for that with a lot of advertising and explaining to people why a vote for a minimum wage bill right now is not a good thing. It’s a bad thing,” says Flanagan.
The Legislature reconvenes on Tuesday, and so far there are no minimum wage bills under consideration.
If at least 30,000 of the signatures are valid, the initiative should appear on the August primary ballot.