Job killer? GOP governor hopefuls slam minimum wage hike law

Gubernatorial candidates
Republican gubernatorial candidates Scott Honour, Jeff Johnson, Marty Seifert and Kurt Zellers, left to right, before an on-air debate last week.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News, File

The four Republicans running for governor in next week's primary do not like Minnesota's new minimum wage law. One of them is proposing to freeze the hourly rate at the current $8.

Businessman and first-time candidate Scott Honour called for an end to automatic minimum wage increases Monday as part of his broader plan for boosting the state economy.

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The $8 hourly minimum wage, up from $6.15, kicked in on Friday. It was the first increase since 2005 and the first of a series of hikes DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law last spring.

The minimum wage is set to rise to $9 next year and to $9.50 the year after. The increases will likely resume in 2018 when automatic annual inflation adjustments take hold.

Economists have an ongoing debate about whether hiking the minimum wage leads to job loss, and if so, by how much.

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Honour, though, said that while a base minimum wage makes sense, the new law goes too far and that he'd freeze the wage at its current $8. Additional increases, he said, would need legislative approval.

"I think seeing minimum wage being increased by government and having government artificially interfere with the economy hurts the opportunity for Minnesotans to have a job," he said. "What I want to see is an economy where companies raise their wages because it's in the best interest of everyone."

Honour's call for a freeze goes further than his three rivals in next week's primary. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, former House minority leader Marty Seifert and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers have focused their criticism on the future inflationary increases.

During a debate last week on Twin Cities radio station KTLK, Zellers pointed out that the new law allows a governor to suspend an inflationary increase in a given year if there's an economic downturn.

"I would not have signed the bill the way it was. I would absolutely take the automatic inflator off, which is the way the bill is written is one of the provisions that the governor would have control over," Zellers said. "You're not going to be able to repeal the actual increase in the minimum wage with a DFL Senate."

Jeff Johnson took a similar position during the same broadcast.

"I do not support the automatic inflator. I think that's terrible policy," Johnson said. "I think that if we're going to raise the minimum wage again, the Legislature should have to pass it and the governor should have to sign it."

The other GOP candidate, Marty Seifert, stopped short of pledging to block the inflation adjustments but said in an interview that he will take a hard look at them.

"I'll take a look at the automatic inflators, and probably wouldn't do them, just because of the fact that we'll be among the highest (minimum wage) in the United States," he said.

Honour's plan to stop the next two scheduled increases is unrealistic, Seifert suggested, given the DFL majority in the state Senate.

All four Republicans said if elected, they would try to improve the wages for all Minnesotans by helping business improve job opportunities throughout the state.

Minnesota already has one of the strongest job markets in the U.S. The state's jobless rate in June was 4.5 percent, tied for sixth lowest among the states with Montana and Oklahoma.