Updated 10:15 a.m. Monday
By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. — Having failed to persuade state lawmakers to increase the minimum wage in Nebraska, the senator who introduced the bill said he’s working with advocates who are considering trying to get the issue on the ballot in November.
A bill introduced by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, D-Omaha, fell five votes short of the 25 votes needed to clear the first round of debate last week. It would have increased the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour over three years.
Asked whether supporters might turn to an initiated measure, Nordquist said Friday, “We have had some very informal discussions about it. After the legislative session I’m sure we will talk about it in more detail.”
During a conference call Monday he said he’s working with excited allies who are considering moving forward with a ballot initiative in November.
Supporters would have to gather 80,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot, Nordquist said, which he said is “very much doable.”
“It’s just a matter of pulling the resources together,” he said. “It certainly is something we can accomplish.”
If Nebraska supporters decide to take the issue to the ballot, they would join four other states with Republican-controlled legislatures that will consider increasing the wage via ballot measures — Alaska, Michigan, South Dakota and Arkansas.
Nebraska’s minimum wage hasn’t increased since 2009, and 21 states and the District of Columbia have a higher minimum wage than the federal requirement of $7.25 an hour. Democrats have pushed the issue in at least half the states this year, according to the Associated Press.
Nordquist said Monday that the minimum wage is too low to make ends meet and every day he sees people in his legislative district who can’t get ahead. Even in a conservative state like Nebraska, business owners say they’re being undercut by competitors and want to see the rate increased, he said.
“Everyone should be allowed to live in dignity,” Nordquist said.
While Nebraska consistently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, he said 18 percent of children live in poverty. A higher rate also reduces turnover and increases productivity, he argues.
Although Nebraska lawmakers who opposed the rate increase said virtually nothing during the debate on the floor last week — knowing they had the numbers on their side — opponents say increasing the wage could cost jobs, increase consumer costs and require small businesses to cut jobs or close.
The Nebraska chamber of commerce opposed Nordquist’s bill, saying Nebraska should adhere to the federal minimum wage and there are better ways to help poor Nebraskans, such as cutting taxes or increasing the earned-income tax credit.
The conservative Platte Institute for Economic Research said nearly half of workers earning minimum wage are under the age of 24, and those “short-term, low-wage” jobs are opportunities for young people to get work experience move up to higher-paying jobs.
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