LITTLE ROCK Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Ross on Friday said he supports a proposal to gradually raise the Arkansas minimum wage to $8.50 an hour by 2017.
The state minimum now is $6.25 per hour, making it one of just four states with a minimum wage lower than the federal level of $7.25 per hour.
Ross became the second high-profile Democrat in the state to back the group Give Arkansas A Raise Now, which wants to put the proposal on the statewide ballot. The group must submit 62,507 signatures from registered voters by July 7 to get the proposal on the November ballot.
"Working Arkansans deserve a living wage to provide for their families, which is why I support the ballot initiative to raise the state's minimum wage in a gradual, fair and responsible way," Ross said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.
Earlier this year, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor announced he was backing the group's proposal. Pryor has called the Arkansas proposal preferable to $10.10 federal minimum wage measure before the U.S. Senate, and backed by President Barack Obama, which Pryor opposes. Pryor is being challenged by Republican Rep. Tom Cotton. A spokesman for Cotton's campaign said Cotton also opposes the federal increase but was studying the Arkansas proposal.
The proposed ballot measure would raise the state's minimum wage to $7.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2015; to $8 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016, and to $8.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2017.
Former congressman Asa Hutchinson is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for governor. Ross and Hutchinson have focused primarily on each other in the race for the state's top office and not lesser-known, underfunded rivals in their respective primaries. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is term-limited and unable to run for re-election in November.
Hutchinson has said he would prefer to see the minimum wage raised by the state Legislature, not by ballot measure.
"I support increasing the minimum wage. However, I prefer that this issue be considered by the General Assembly rather than by ballot initiative," Hutchinson said in statement provided by his campaign.