Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Senate kills minimum wage hike for Louisiana workers

by BIZ Magazine

By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator

A proposal to set the minimum wage at $10 per hour in Louisiana got an unexpected boost when it cleared a majority-Republican Senate committee on Monday, but it ultimately failed in a floor vote Tuesday.

Senate Bill 149, sponsored by Sen. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, would have established a state minimum wage of $10 per hour beginning in 2024, increase it to $12 in 2026 and then $14 in 2028.

The Senate Finance Committee reported the bill Monday “without action,” which is a way for lawmakers to advance a bill to the floor without signaling their support or opposition for it. However, the chamber’s GOP majority rejected the bill in a 25-13 floor vote Tuesday. 

Although Carter’s move failed to get the bill passed, it forced Senate Republicans to go on record in opposing a minimum wage increase.

Louisiana currently has no state minimum wage and defers to the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, which took effect in 2009. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 30 states have minimum wages higher than the federal rate. Only two of those, Arkansas and Florida, are in the South, which is also the poorest region in the country. 

Carter’s proposal would have given the lowest-paid workers in Louisiana a slight pay bump, but the bill faced long odds in the state’s GOP-controlled legislature. Under pressure from corporate lobbyists, Republicans have for years consistently blocked attempts to set a minimum wage.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, it would have cost the state government an estimated $2.7 million over five years in increased payroll expenses for state employees, though Carter said the calculation doesn’t account for the impact his proposal would have made on social service programs. 

Higher wages would have decreased state expenditures on social services by allowing people to get off of food stamps, housing assistance and other welfare programs, he said. 

Carter referred to the hidden cost of low pay in arguing for the increase. When companies don’t pay their workers livable wages, they’re essentially taking money from taxpayers by forcing their workers to rely on government subsidies, he said. 

“Those costs are passed onto state governments in the form of food stamps, in the form of housing assistance, in the form of other state subsidies,” he said.

Despite rising inflation and the nationwide labor shortage, there are still some retail and fast food companies paying the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, Carter said.

Testifying in support of the bill, Tom Costanza, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the committee Monday that 30% of head-of-household single women, who take care of children or other dependents, still work for $7.25 per hour in Louisiana.

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