Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said Tuesday they plan to vote against a proposed initiated act that would raise the state's minimum wage by $2.50 an hour to $11 an hour by 2021.
These two Republicans signaled their opposition to Issue 5 on the Nov. 6 general election ballot in separate written statements, after supporters of the proposed ballot measure held a news conference Tuesday morning at Trio's restaurant in Little Rock as a kick-off event.
The proposed initiated act would raise the minimum wage of $8.50 an hour to $9.25 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019; to $10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020; and then to $11 an hour on Jan. 1, 2o21.
Supporters said the proposal would benefit more than 300,000 working Arkansans, ranging from home health care aides, to custodians, to retail workers, to classroom aides, and put a cumulative total of $455 million in the pockets of hard-working, low-income Arkansans after it's fully implemented.
Capi Peck, owner of Trio's, said, "Gradually raising the minimum wage will provide an injection of dollars into small local businesses like Trio's.
"We know that low-wage workers are the people most likely to spend their dollars in their communities. When they earn more, they can spend more on food and clothing and everyday essentials," she said. "It just makes sense to give hard-working Arkansans a raise."
Hutchinson said that raising the income level for Arkansans is a top priority for him.
"Today, it was announced that Arkansas is in the top ten states for income growth and this success is accomplished by creating good paying jobs as we have done over the last 4 years," the governor said in a written statement late Tuesday afternoon.
"I will not vote for the ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage over 3 years to $11.00 per hour. This would be a job killer for our youth particularly," Hutchinson said in his written statement.
"It is playing with fire to set a wage rate 3 years from now when we do not know the economic conditions that far down the road. I support raising the minimum wage, but it should be done through legislative action at such time when the economic outlook supports the action."
In response, Kirstin Foster, campaign manager for the Arkansans for a Fair Wage committee promoting Issue 5, said in a written statement that "since 2014, the last time Arkansas voters overwhelmingly approved increasing the minimum wage to the current rate of $8.50/hr, Arkansas has added 70,000 new jobs.
"Still 1 in 4 children in our state don't know where their next meal will come from," she said in the statement. "By gradually increasing the wage to $11 by 2021, not only will we lift many of these children out of poverty we are unlikely to see any net job loss.
"The Arkansas General Assembly has not voted to increase the minimum wage for 12 years. The cost of groceries, housing and other necessities has continued to rise, but wages have not kept up. If our elected officials will not act to provide hard-working Arkansans with a livable wage, then we must let voters decide this issue in November," she said.
In July, Hutchinson's Democratic opponent, Jared Henderson of Little Rock, embraced Issue 5.
"I believe every hard-working [worker] should be able to earn a livable wage no matter what profession they are in," Henderson said at the time.
Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Mark West of Batesville said he opposes raising the minimum wage.
Griffin said Tuesday he plans to vote against Issue 5.
"I'm focused on policies that help workers achieve their maximum wage, not just get by on minimum wage," the lieutenant governor said in a written statement.
"This proposal will kill jobs and hurt workers it seeks to help. We must stay competitive so that there are enough good paying jobs and only our youth and newest employees are temporarily working at the minimum," Griffin said.
But Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Anthony Bland of Little Rock said Tuesday he will vote for the proposal.
"I believe we should strive for a livable wage for all hard-working people of the state of Arkansas," he said.
Libertarian candidate Frank Gilbert of Tull, another candidate for lieutenant governor, said Tuesday he will vote against the proposed initiated act.
"I just don't believe it is a proper function of state government" to set a minimum wage, he said.
In August, the secretary of state's office determined that the sponsor, the Arkansans for a Fair Wage committee, turned in 84,526 valid signatures. The proposal needed 67,887 signatures.
Earlier this month, the Arkansans for a Sound Economy committee, led by Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce President Randy Zook, asked the Supreme Court to toss the proposed initiated act off the ballot. In a report to the Supreme Court on Monday, special master Sam Bird determined that Martin's office had improperly culled 19,335 signatures from those gathered by canvassers. The Supreme Court has the final say on whether it stays on the ballot.
Attorney David Couch of the Arkansans for a Fair Wage Committee, said Tuesday he's "not assuming we win but certainly hoping that is the case."
Tuesday's event "was part of the campaign plan before the lawsuit was filed," he said.
"We decided to go forward because in all likelihood it will be at least a couple of weeks before the Supreme Court does decide and we wanted to start getting our message out," Couch said. He noted there are television ads for another ballot proposal even though it's contested in court too.
Zook said that "our committee, Arkansans for a Strong Economy, continues to believe the proponents for this measure failed to follow the petition process required by Arkansas law. We will wait for the Arkansas Supreme Court's review, and we are hopeful the Court will agree that Issue 5 did not gather the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot."
Metro on 09/26/2018