Huntsman Willing to Consider Raising Minimum Wage

Huntsman Willing to Consider Raising Minimum Wage

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman says he's willing to consider raising the minimum wage above the federal minimum of $5.15 an hour if Congress fails to do so.

More than a year ago, Huntsman put together a working group to look at whether an increase was needed in Utah.

Now the group is getting ready to meet with the governor and legislative leaders to discuss its findings. But even if members find there's a need to raise the rate, state leaders might to decide to wait for federal action.

The Democrat-controlled Congress has pledged to raise the federal minimum wage.

"We're going to keep our eye on Congress," Huntsman said, suggesting the issue ought to be addressed one way or another. "We could very well see it set by Congress. ... So that would address it there."

He said he'll decide whether to make an increase part of his legislative package for the 2007 Legislature that begins meeting in mid-January after he sees the results of the state-funded study of who's being paid minimum wage in Utah.

"We have, I think, about 13,000 to 14,000 people in this state making minimum wage," Huntsman said. "So how do you define that demographic? Are they high school, part-time workers, or are they single moms, which would be a real concern to me."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 4,000 Utah residents were making minimum wage in 2005 and 12,000 were below that rate.

Although the results of the study aren't complete, advocate Pamela Atkinson said fewer than 20 percent of the state's minimum wage earners are teenagers.

She said the study, expected to be made public in mid-December, will break down the number of Utahns earning the minimum wage by gender, age and marital status.

"We've come up with hard facts rather than myths," she said.

Opposition to a higher minimum wage has come from the business community, especially small-business owners and the restaurant industry. The Utah Restaurant Association warned last year that an increase could mean fewer jobs.

Atkinson says that's not true.

"There are still some people who believe raising the minimum wage will cause a fair amount of job losses," she said. "As we do research around the country, that is not a fact."

Nationwide, 28 states have approved a minimum wage that's higher than the federal rate.

Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley City, said labor officials are being told Congress is looking at hiking the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour with built-in cost of living increases. An attempt to do just that earlier this year failed under the Republican-controlled Congress.

Mayne also attempted to raise the minimum wage in Utah to $7 in the legislative session that ended March 1. He later tried to compromise by amending his bill to only raise it to $6.50 an hour. It, too, failed.

"I just think what was done last session was pretty reprehensible in us not taking the lead," he said.


Information from: Deseret Morning News

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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