NH Senate votes down minimum wage hike

Bill would have raised hourly rate to $12 by September 2018

The NH Senate on Thursday put the last nail in the coffin of any minimum wage increase this year, with opponents maintaining that higher wages hurt low-paid workers, while proponents argued that it would help the state attract young workers that businesses need to thrive.

Senate Bill 83 would have increased the minimum wage – currently set at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, the lowest in New England – to $8.50 in September, $10 next March and $12 in September 2018.

While a small tiny percentage of workers in New Hampshire are paid the actual minimum wage, people on both sides of the debate agreed that an increase would push up the entire low-end wage structure. The question was whether that was good or bad.

Sen. Dan Innis, R-New Castle, who led the charge against the bill, said the increase in SB 83 was “too much too fast” and would hurt small businesses, who he said would reduce their workforce to keep payroll under control.

The bill would “hurt the very people that this bill is intended to help,” he added. “It feels good right now,” but in the long run the “consequences are negative to the business community” as well as the workers themselves.

‘Not as competitive’

But when Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, asked whether Republicans would be open to a smaller, slower increase, he got no reply. (Although Innis had said in a NH Public Radio interview on Thursday morning that he would be open to a “more gradual” minimum wage hike, one that took “smaller steps over a longer period of time.”)

Kahn argued that being surrounded with states with minimum wages of $10 and $11 gives New Hampshire the dubious distinction of “not being as competitive as our surrounding states” when it comes to attracting those starting out in life.

“We need more tools to attract a workforce, students and people who want to live and work here,” he said.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, appealed to sympathy for low-wage workers. “What do we say of a society when we have people working hard full time, and not be able to survive?”

She also noted that as minimum wage workers turn to food stamps and other benefits for help, taxpayers are forced to subsidize the businesses that skimp on their workers.

Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, appealed to class interests.

“We are not building a wall around the country, but a wall between the rich and the poor,” he said. “There is an opportunity gap between those that had and those that don’t, and we are wearing down the poor and middle class.”

But Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, argued that the debate was not about wages at all.

“This is not about the minimum wage,” he said. “It’s about how much money is in people’s pocket at the end of the day.” The debate should not center around “pay levels but the cost of living.”

Regulations like the minimum wage drives those costs up, which makes things more expensive, he said. And he warned that employers would replace workers with iPads and robots if they are forced to pay workers more.

“You will drive the cost of business so high that we can’t afford to help people at the bottom end,” he said.

The Senate killed the bill on a 14-9 vote. The House killed a similar minimum wage bill earlier this month.

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