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m4865 BC-MN-XGR-MinimumWage 2ndLd-Writethru 05-01 0553

Minimum wage hike gets House OK, but Pawlenty has objections

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By MARTIGA LOHN

Associated Press Writer

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ST. PAUL (AP) — A plan to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to as much as $7.90 an hour by July 2009 cleared the House on Thursday, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he can’t live with the bill as it stands.

The House voted 82-45 for higher wages for the lowest-paid workers, a year after the Senate approved similar legislation and almost three years after Minnesota’s minimum hourly wage was set at $6.15 for large employers. Starting in 2010, minimum wages would climb automatically with inflation.

Workers whose employers have annual sales of $625,000 or more would get top-scale minimum wage. The bill would also pump up the $5.25 hourly minimum for small businesses to $6.75 by 2009. Minimum wage workers would get their first pay raise on July 24, followed by another a year later.

"I would like it to be more, but I want the governor to sign this bill," said Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia and the bill’s sponsor.

Pawlenty called the bill "overbaked" and said changes are needed before he will support it.

The GOP governor said the wage shouldn’t be linked to inflation and workers who get tips and who make more than $15 or $20 an hour shouldn’t get the entire increase. Unlike some states, Minnesota doesn’t set a lower minimum wage for waitresses, waiters, bartenders and other workers who make tips.

"I would like to try to sign a minimum wage bill if we can get it fixed. Within reason, those are good things to do from time to time," Pawlenty told reporters at the Capitol.

Most House Republicans voted against the proposal, warning that it would put mom-and-pop restaurants under pressure and cause them to lay off employees or close. They said dishwashers or cooks making $8 an hour wouldn’t get an increase, while servers, who make more with tips but are paid minimum wage by the business, would get a raise.

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"Why are we giving a raise to the highest-paid people in the restaurant business and leaving the dishwashers out?" said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings.

Rukavina pointed to state Department of Employment and Economic Development figures showing the median wage for Twin Cities waiters and waitresses is $8.13 an hour.

"That’s not a very livable wage," Rukavina said. "That’s not a wage with dignity."

An amendment added during the debate would raise Minnesota’s $4.90-an-hour training wage to $5.25 for teenage employees for their first 90 days on the job.

The federal minimum wage — currently $5.85 an hour — will reach $7.25 an hour in July 2009.

There are now three minimum wages in effect in Minnesota: $5.25 an hour at businesses with gross yearly sales of less than $500,000; the federal minimum of $5.85 at businesses with sales between $500,000 and $625,000; and $6.15 for larger companies. Starting July 24, all employers with sales topping $500,000 must pay the new federal minimum of $6.55 an hour.

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Martiga Lohn may be reached at mlohn(at)ap.org.

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