Thursday, May 30, 2024

Louisiana governor proposes increasing minimum wage for state workers

by BIZ Magazine

By Julie O’Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator

After years of failing to convince lawmakers to raise the minimum wage for all Louisiana residents, Gov. John Bel Edwards may have to settle for raising it for just state government employees.

The Democratic governor is proposing the state spend $33 million in the next budget cycle to make sure every state employee – including those who work part-time – makes at least $10 per hour. The change would affect 4,700 workers who currently make less. 

“Since I’ve been governor, I’ve been asking that we increase the state minimum wage from $7.25 an hour,” Edwards told lawmakers in a speech last week. “It’s unacceptable. It was unacceptable in 2016. I think it’s downright immoral in 2023.”

“The state government can and will lead by example and so we will use the powers that I have to raise the minimum wage for state employees,” he said.  

About half of the jobs that would be affected are at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, public colleges and universities, and the Louisiana Department of Health. Custodians, food service workers, laboratory technician assistants and bridge toll collectors are among those who would see their pay go up, according to information from the Louisiana Division of Administration.

Louisiana is one of 21 states where the minimum wage is aligned with the federal rate of $7.25 per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Neighboring states Texas and Mississippi also have a $7.25 minimum wage. Arkansas requires $11 per hour. 

Edwards has proposed increasing the minimum wage for the past seven years, but Republican legislators have always voted him down. Business groups strenuously lobby against any minimum wage increase, saying it will lead to higher prices for basic goods and services as well as make Louisiana less attractive to out-of-state investment. 

Last week, the governor said he will back yet another minimum wage bill for all residents during this year’s legislative session, but it will continue to be a tough sell with conservative lawmakers ahead of the upcoming election cycle.

Some of Louisiana’s strongest proponents for a minimum wage increase also wish the governor had gone farther with his proposal for state workers. 

“I think it is very good that the state is doing this, but it’s not enough,” said Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a left-leaning fiscal policy organization. “It should start at $15 per hour.”

The federal minimum wage was most recently raised in 2009, but that rate is not tied to inflation. That means the purchasing power of a person earning minimum wage has fallen over the past 14 years as prices have gone up.

The value of the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968, when it was technically under $2 per hour, according to a recent Louisiana Budget Project report. Adjusted for inflation, that rate from 55 years ago would now come out to about $12.23 per hour today, Moller said.

Low-wage workers also aren’t the only state government employees who would see pay increase under the governor’s budget proposal.

Edwards wants to raise the rates of merit pay increases for classified state employees subject to civil service rules. That change would affect approximately 37,000 government workers and cost $18 million in the next budget cycle. Those raises would take effect July 15.

But lawmakers could refuse to accept the governor’s plan and block all the proposed pay adjustments for state workers.

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