Washington • As President Barack Obama pushes for a minimum wage increase, the real action is in the states.
Meeting with Democratic governors at the White House, Obama sought to build momentum Friday for his effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016. But he noted that much of the activity surrounding his push to address income inequality through higher wages is happening on a state level in Hawaii, Washington, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois and other states.
"This is not just good policy. It also happens to be good politics," Obama said. "Because the truth of the matter is the overwhelming majority of Americans think that raising the minimum wage is a good idea."
Taking a veiled swipe at a prominent Republican, Obama noted that wages were increased in New Jersey by public referendum, even though it was opposed by New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Democrats have assailed Christie in recent weeks over a political payback scandal that has engulfed his administration.
Republicans have opposed increasing the minimum wage, asserting that it will kill jobs. GOP leaders seized upon a report earlier this week by Congress’ nonpartisan budget analysts that found the wage increase could reduce jobs in 2016 by about 500,000, or 0.3 percent.
Republican governors gathered at a hotel near the White House suggested that raising the minimum wage was an issue better left to the individual states and the free market.
"I’m not for increasing the minimum wage because I’m concerned it would destroy jobs, especially for small business owners," said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, the chair of the National Governors Association. "The market will take care of itself."
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, also a Republican, wouldn’t say whether he supported Obama’s proposal when asked.
"My focus is on getting jobs that pay more than minimum wage," he said, citing a state program that helps create jobs that pay $11.50 an hour and new trade jobs that pay more than $50,000 a year. "I’m working on that."
Fallin said she wasn’t worried about political fallout from Republican opposition to a higher minimum wage, despite polls that show most Americans support the president’s plan.
With Republicans opposing the wage increase in Congress, many states have tried to act on their own.
At least 14 states are pursuing efforts to raise the minimum wage this year, according David Cooper, an economic analyst with The Economic Policy Institute. Cities such as Chicago, New York, San Diego, Seattle and Oakland, Calif., are also exploring minimum wage increases, he said.
"Irrespective of what happens at the federal level, they’re going to be moving on these campaigns no matter what," Cooper said. He said in 2013, five states passed legislation to increase their state minimum wage: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.
The Senate is expected to debate a minimum wage bill next month that would increase the current $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage in three increments to $10.10 by 2016, with annual increases reflecting inflation after that. The Congressional Budget Office report released on Tuesday found that without any adjustments to the minimum wage, about 45 million Americans are expected to live below the poverty line in 2016.
Democrats said raising the minimum wage would boost consumer spending, which would help local economies.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said he recently asked his state economist why the state had not experienced as much economic growth as desired despite the presence of major companies like Amazon and Boeing.
"Their answer was clear, it’s because we have a drag in our economy because of low wage jobs that are not creating consumers who can go out and create the demand we need," Inslee said. He said raising the minimum wage would "remove that anchor" on the economy.
The meeting with Obama came at the start of a weekend gathering of most of the nation’s governors for the annual National Governors Association meeting. The long weekend, which will include a White House dinner on Sunday night and a bipartisan meeting with Obama on Monday, will include discussions on economic development, education and health care.
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