From the beginning, the rushed minimum wage bill which passed the House on Sunday was controversial. It was only heard in one committee and was put on the floor 9 days after introduction. And a sign held in a committee hearing by Ed Flanagan, a former Alaska Labor Commissioner, made it all the more so.
In addition to being a former commissioner, Flanagan is also the chair of Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage, the group behind a ballot initiative that would raise minimum wage. During a House Labor & Commerce Committee hearing on the minimum wage bill, Flanagan held up a piece of notepaper onto which he had drawn a dollar sign.
He later said that he was trying to remind a member of the committee to ask about whether or not the bill had a fiscal note. House Speaker Mike Chenault and others in the majority however, saw something more nefarious in the works, which is clear from a speech that Chenault gave on the House floor, after passing out a picture of Flanagan holding the dollar sign.
“I see a man representing organized labor sitting in a committee room, flashing a dollar sign to elected members of this body as they deliberate the minimum wage bill,” Chenault said. “Let me remind you this man, one of the leaders of the group backing the minimum wage initiative, is a former commissioner of labor — a former public servant to the people of Alaska. He damn well ought to know better.”
And there’s more:
You all, and most Alaskans, remember those dark days. Lobbyists leaning over rails — federal investigations — corruption charges. We’ve worked hard to restore faith in a clean process; to restore dignity and integrity to this institution, to the Alaska House of Representatives — the people’s house. And now, this. I cannot, I will not tolerate even the appearance – I cannot, I will not tolerate the reality.
Confused? Here’s a few things you should know:
- An initiative increasing minimum wage is slated to appear on the ballot in August, along with a repeal of an oil tax bill that was passed last legislative session.
- The minimum wage initiative has broad support, particularly among those who might be inclined to vote for repealing the tax bill. And it will likely draw those voters to the polls.
- Although they aren’t publically saying so, word is that the oil industry doesn’t want the two on the same ballot.
- Those who support repealing oil taxes want it to stay on the ballot.
- If the Legislature passes a minimum wage bill that’s substantially similar as the one slated to be on the ballot, the minimum wage initiative would disappear.
- In 2003, the Legislature gutted a similar bill that was also passed to keep the minimum wage off the ballot.
- Therefore, unions want to keep it on the ballot.
- The corruption Chenault was referring to was in 2006. Read about it here.
Although they have stayed publicly neutral on the issue, it would appear that the biggest losers in all of this is the oil industry, which is trying to get the message out that it’s trustworthy. Even if it’s not true, if this passes, the perception will be that it pushed to circumvent the democratic process.
The bill is now headed to the Senate, where all eyes will eventually be on Rules Committee Chair Sen. Lesil McGuire. Rules is the last committee to see a bill before it ends up on the floor, or not. McGuire is union-friendly. It’s unclear how much this all means to the other members of leadership. If it’s important to them, it’ll be interesting to see how hard she fights to keep it in committee and off the Senate floor.
All Democrats except Neal Foster from Nome, and Ben Nageak from Barrow voted against the bill.
Republicans who voted against it are:
- Gabrielle LeDoux and Bob Lynn, both from Anchorage.
- Bill Stoltze from Chugiak.
- Lynn Gattis from Wasilla.
- Alan Austerman from Kodiak.
- Cathy Munoz from Juneau.
- Tammie Wilson from North Pole.
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