Ketchikan is hosting three public hearings on statewide ballot initiatives this week, and the first one took place Wednesday.
That hearing focused on Proposition 3, which seeks to raise the statewide minimum wage, which now is $7.75 per hour.
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell presided over the hearing, and summarized the proposition language. He says that, if passed, the bill would raise the minimum wage by $1 in 2015 and another dollar in 2016. After that, the state’s minimum wage would be adjusted to rise with inflation, but must always be at least a dollar above the national minimum wage.
Ed Flanagan is one of the bill sponsors, and called in to provide arguments in favor of the bill.
“It doesn’t raise the minimum wage to $12 or $15 an hour. It’s a modest proposal: $8.75 and $9.75 over the next 15 or 16 months at this point,” he said.
Flanagan said the bill also doesn’t remove an exemption from the minimum wage for teenagers under 18 who work fewer than 30 hours a week. He said the proposition would affect the wages of an estimated 48,000 Alaska workers.
“Of that 48,000, the Economic Policy Institute projects that 78 percent are 20 or over, 57 percent are women, 25 percent have children,” he said.
One argument against raising the minimum wage is that costs will be passed to consumers. Flanagan argued that, through public assistance programs, the public currently subsidizes workers who are paid minimum wage.
Denny DeWitt represents the Alaska chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, which opposes Proposition 3. He said that raising the minimum wage would also raise unemployment for teenagers. DeWitt pointed to Washington and Oregon, which have higher minimum wages.
“In Alaska, where the minimum wage is $7.75 an hour, teen unemployment was 17.5 percent,” he said. “In Washington State, where the minimum wage is $9.32 an hour and rises every year because of indexing to inflation, the teen unemployment rate was an astounding 30.6 percent. In Oregon, where the minimum wage is $9.10, the teen unemployment rate was 27.4 percent.”
DeWitt also argued that the added expense to small businesses would make them less able to offer entry-level positions. He said that would harm the workforce because there would be less on-the-job training available.
No member of the public offered comments during Wednesday’s hearing.
Two more hearings are scheduled for Thursday. A hearing on Proposition 2, which seeks to legalize marijuana, is scheduled for 1 p.m.; and a hearing on Proposition 4, the “Bristol Bay Forever” initiative, starts at 4 p.m.
All hearings will take place in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building. They will be televised through local public access channels, and streamed online at http://akl.tv.
Alaskans also can call in to testify: 1-855-463-5009; or submit comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.