Walz causes confusion over $15 minimum wage stance

Rep. Tim Walz, the DFL nominee for governor, appears with city mayors to stress his commitment to local government aid. Brian Bakst | MPR News

Posted 12:09 p.m. | Updated 4:40 p.m. with Walz tweets

Democrat Tim Walz, who leads in the race for Minnesota governor, created and then tried to clear up confusion Wednesday about where he stands on raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.

At a morning news conference surrounded by mayors from around Minnesota, Walz refused to say what the minimum wage should be. But later in the day, he took to Twitter to reaffirm his support of the $15 standard.

His news conference stance appeared to contradict a firm position in bold font on his campaign web site that the minimum wage should rise to $15. The wage sits at $9.65 now for large employers but is due to rise to $9.86 an hour on Jan. 1 because it is indexed to inflation.

When pressed about what the wage should be set at, Walz described $15 per hour as an “aspirational goal” and noted that he has supported that figure on the federal level during his time in Congress. But he noted that the buying power differs from community to community.

“What I know is that a minimum wage and a housing wage in Worthington looks like a housing wage that is very different than what’s happening in Minneapolis,” Walz said, referring to the bite of a person’s income that goes toward rent or mortgage payments.

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He said that setting a specific figure would short-circuit efforts to get something passed, given the differences between advocates who see a higher wage as a moral imperative and the concerns of business owners who would have to boost paychecks.

“I think it’s irresponsible at this point in time not to bring them together and have this conversation of where we land, and what that looks like in terms of a glide path and what that looks like in terms of implementation,” Walz said.

Walz has said the state should lead on bumping up the wage while applauding local governments primed to go beyond what the state requires. Some big cities have advanced minimum wage and worker benefits ordinances opposed by business groups, who have petitioned the Legislature for a law blocking them.

Republican nominee Jeff Johnson has said he supports such a law, but Walz said he opposes preemption measures.

At the news conference, Walz and the mayors made the case for a strong state commitment to local government aid. They warned that cutbacks would drive up property taxes and threaten essential services.

Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schrierer said local aid payments go toward police, fire and parks services.

"Local government aid is not a regional issue. It's a Minnesota issue. Providing adequate police and fire protection, safe roads and bridges and clean public parks are not Democrat or Republican values," Schrierer said.  "They're not metro or outstate values, those are Minnesota values."