State representative wants to slow Missouri’s minimum wage increase

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri voters might remember approving an increase for the state’s minimum wage two years ago, but now lawmakers want to push back that raise. 

Proposition B on the 2018 ballot would raise Missouri’s minimum wage $12 by 2026, but the chairman of the state’s budget committee is proposing for workers to wait for that increase. 

“We oftentimes conflate minimum wage with living wage and, in my opinion, minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage,” Rep. Cody Smith (R-Carthage) said during a committee hearing Tuesday night. “I think higher minimum wage laws lead to more job elimination because of few of those minimum wage laws.”

At present, the state’s minimum wage is $10.30 an hour. Back in 2018, 63% of Missouri voters approved increasing Missouri’s minimum wage by 85 cents a year until it’s $12 by 2023. 

“You’re not going to keep anyone at $10.30 right, because of free-market forces,” Rep. Steve Butz (D-St. Louis) said. “They are going to move on to better paying jobs.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said during the Special Committee on Small Business the state needs to respect the voters’ decision. 

“It’s what they wanted and it passed, and yet we are going back again and saying, ‘We didn’t get it quite right,'” Quade said. 

Originally, Smith wanted to do away with the increase and tie the state’s minimum wage to the federal amount of $7.25. 

“While I hate to completely abandon the idea with doing away with a larger than federal wage increase, I acknowledge that does cause some problems among the General Assembly because that was implemented by popular vote,” Smith said.

During the hearing, Smith said he now want to push back the full increase to 2026. 

“I’m proposing an extension on these increases that would take place over the course of time and make this more palatable to the business community to again the health care community and give them more time to adapt to this over the course of time,” Smith said.  

Smith said his main reason for wanting to lower the minimum wage is because of the health care industry, specifically providers. 

“The time that I keep going back to the health care workers, the care providers, and various types have increased pressure to pay higher wages,” Smith said. “They turn to the state for relief for that pressure.”

Hours before the hearing, services workers and small business owners held a virtually rally. 

“I’m disgusted our state legislature is attempting to lower the minimum wage during a global pandemic and an economic recession,” Kansas City restaurant owner Howard Hanna said. “Having the living wage has helped us recruit and retain people and deliver great products and services.”

Hanna said lower the minimum wage would not only hurt his business, but Missouri’s economy. 

“Lawmakers might think they are trying to help small businesses like mine with this proposal, but they are dead wrong,” Hanna said. “Low wages just don’t harm workers, they hurt businesses and are a drag on the whole economy.”

Kansas City resident Terrence Wise works a minimum wage job at McDonald’s. Before Prop B, he said he was living out of his car. 

“And we’ve now been able to get cars, I have a car and she [fiancé] has a car and we’ve been able to keep them,” Wise said. “There’s been less hungry nights in my house, and we’ve been able to do a little more.”

Wise said the increase over the two years has been a relief to him and his family. 

“Since our wages have risen, I get about 40% less on the food stamps, the EBT card, than I did eight years ago,” Wise said. “That’s because I’ve seen a lift in my wages and my fiancé’s wages. We like going to the store and spending our hard-earned money on food. We don’t like pulling out the blue EBT card and we like to be proud and be able to buy our own food.”

House Bill 726 was not voted out of the committee Tuesday night. 

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