JEFFERSON CITY — A proposed change to minimum wage legislation could affect thousands of Missouri workers.
A Senate bill calls for 2012 state elections to decide whether to bind the state minimum wage to the federally mandated wage. The Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee heard the bill Tuesday.
Committee Chairman Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said he sees the change as benefiting Missouri's business community.
"If we start to exceed the national minimum wage, then all of a sudden we become even more uncompetitive compared to neighboring states," Rupp said. The bill "is something to look at, especially in an era of low employment."
Although the federal and state wage are both currently set at $7.25, critics worry that inflation could eat up the amount that workers will receive in the future. Lou Prince, owner of Vintage Vinyl record store in University City, explained to the committee the implications for those who work for small businesses such as his.
"The least we can do for hard-working Missourians is to protect the buying power of the poorest and economically weakest of our neighbors. That's all that minimum wage indexing does," Prince said. "It keeps people who are barely staying above water economically from drowning."
The current law was enacted in 2006, after voters supported an increase in the state's minimum wage levels. Lara Granich, director of the Missouri Jobs with Justice Coalition, helped push for passage of the 2006 increase. She said the amount of support the proposal received around the state proves that lawmakers should keep their hands off.
Granich said: "76.4 percent of Missourians voted for the increase in minimum wage. Actually, even more powerfully, it passed in every single county by 16 points or more."
However, Rupp said the current economic downturn makes it imperative to try to attract employers to the state.
"We can kick it back to the people and say is this something that you wanted to do to try to spur economic growth in our small businesses, which hire most of the employees here in the state," Rupp said.
Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who sponsored the bill, was unable to be reached for comment.