Blunt opposes House proposal to alter minimum-wage law

Thursday, April 12, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt said Wednesday he opposes efforts to eliminate an annual inflationary pay raise for minimum-wage workers that was included in a voter-approved ballot measure last year.

Blunt said he agrees with a proposal to fix a glitch in the new minimum-wage law that unintentionally drove up overtime costs for some fire and police departments.

But the Republican governor wants to leave the rest of the measure untouched, in direct contrast to efforts by some House leaders to also get rid of the annual inflation adjustment in the minimum wage and to scale back the required base pay for tipped employees like waiters.

"I don't think we should make any other alterations to the ballot measure," Blunt said. "It passed overwhelmingly in virtually every part of the state. Missourians have spoken. I think it would be a mistake to make any changes beyond just addressing this emergency responder issue."

Blunt made his remarks at an unrelated news conference on a day the Capitol was filled with firefighters and surrounded by firetrucks as they gathered to remember those who lost their lives on the job.

Mark Woolbright, a firefighter who also lobbies for the Missouri State Council of Firefighters, said they're just trying to make lawmakers aware of the consequences if the minimum-wage fix fails.

"We just want them to think about this and understand the potential public safety issue that we have at hand if we don't get a fix on this thing," he said Wednesday.

The ballot measure, approved in November with 76 percent support, raised the state's minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.50 an hour as of Jan. 1 and required it to be adjusted annually for inflation.

But the measure also inadvertently deleted a reference to federal overtime rules that had allowed some people to work more than 40 hours a week without triggering overtime pay.

Some fire and police departments, where people routinely work more than 40 hours in a given week, complained the change could cost them millions of dollars. The Missouri Retailers Association said some commissioned salespeople also were covered by federal overtime exceptions and hence were affected by the ballot measure.

The Senate passed legislation earlier this year to restore the overtime exceptions.

But a House committee changed the bill last week to also repeal the inflation adjustment and overrule a decision by Blunt's administration that tipped workers must be paid at least $3.25 an hour, plus tips. The House measure would take it back to the federal rate of $2.13 an hour.

Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, said he would prevent the bill from reaching the House for debate until various supporting interests, including fire and police departments, local governments and retailers, all agree to the expanded version.

"We all stand in agreement that this overtime issue is both an important issue to taxpayers and an important public safety issue," said Jim Kottmeyer, who helped lead the minimum-wage campaign. "We've all been disappointed to see the House leadership use this issue to try to go against the will of 76 percent of Missourians."

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