JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers are considering a bill that would overturn a voter-approved minimum wage increase plan after only its third year in action.
On Tuesday night, the Special Committee on Small Business heard House Bill 726. The bill proposes slowing the schedule for increasing the minimum wage, delaying it by several years.
“Higher minimum wage jobs actually eliminate jobs that are intended for people entering the workforce with minimal work skills,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage. “We oftentimes conflate minimum wage with living wage, and in my opinion, minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage.”
In 2018, Missouri voters supported Proposition B, which specified a five-year plan starting Jan. 1, 2019, that would increase the minimum wage by about 85 cents each year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2023. Currently, Missouri’s minimum wage is $10.30 an hour.
Smith initially wanted to tie the state’s minimum wage to the federal level, which is $7.25
A compromise would instead delay the rising minimum wage by freezing it for three years. Meaning that for 2021 through 2023 the rate would remain at $10.30 an hour. Then in 2024, the rate would increase by 85 cents to $11.15 and remain there through 2025.
The final 85 cent increase in 2026 would then achieve the voter approved $12 an hour goal.
Come 2027 the state’s minimum wage would then be assessed using the consumer price index, a measure that examines fluctuations in average prices of consumer goods and services.
Of the eight states bordering Missouri, only Arkansas and Illinois have higher minimum wages, both at $11. This puts Missouri on track to have the highest minimum wage in the Midwest by 2022, barring increases in the bordering states or changes to the current plan.
Smith said the bill is needed to undo harmful unintended consequences faced by Missouri business owners who say they are struggling to balance their profit margins with the rising cost of labor.
The lawmakers have the power to overturn the will of the voters because Proposition B was a statute and not a constitutional amendment, Smith said. A few lawmakers on the committee pointed out how HB 726 is a subversion of the will of Missouri voters and said that rising wages are needed.
Smith said that wages are rising faster than some employers can afford and the higher floor created by the minimum wage increase is driving that.
Rep. Steve Butz, D-St. Louis, refuted that claim, saying that the driving factor is instead the “tight labor market.” “If you want good employees, you have to pay,” Butz said.
“I live in a very rural area, and I’m really fed up with one-size-fits-all laws, because they kill rural Missouri,” said Rep. Danny Busick, R-Newtown. Busick said the cost of living in some parts of Missouri is higher than in others but the minimum wage is increasing everywhere.
Rep. Neil Smith, D-St. Louis, spoke once during the proceedings on the bill to question a representative from CoxHealth at Home who was testifying in support of the bill.
“I just have one question, and anybody else who comes up to speak, I want you to think of this question, please: Which of these employees doesn’t deserve $12?” After moments of no response, he continued, “These people have bills they need to pay. It takes two or three incomes when you’re making minimum wage to stay in an apartment.”