- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Groups that advocate for low-income families are asking Louisiana lawmakers to boost the state’s minimum wage, saying too many workers are struggling with poverty in the state.

Several Democratic lawmakers have filed proposals that would set Louisiana’s minimum wage anywhere from $8.25 per hour to $10.10, up from the hourly federal rate of $7.25. Some of the bills also contain inflationary increases to raise the wage annually.

Lawmakers will debate the measures in the legislative session that begins March 10.

The idea is considered a long shot for passage, facing opposition from Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and business organizations in a Legislature that is majority GOP in both the House and Senate.

Supporters of a wage hike say it would provide a direct pay raise for as much as 21 percent of the workforce, depending on the level of increase. They say it would raise people out of poverty and pump money into the economy. They note the per hour minimum is $3 less than if it had kept up with the pace of inflation since the late 1960s.

“A modest raise in the minimum wage would have huge benefits for Louisiana workers and would actually create jobs as workers have bigger paychecks to spend throughout the economy,” Jan Moller, director of the left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project, said in a statement.

A recent report from the organization, which analyzes state fiscal issues, found that an increase to $10.10 an hour would directly increase the pay of 360,000 people across the state, more than half of the workers aged 30 or older.

Although that report suggests millions of dollars in new economic activity generated by a minimum wage boost, opponents say it would force businesses to lay off workers or raise the cost of their products and would stifle economic activity.

“When you put in a mandate like this and tell small business owners they have to abide by it, it’s going to have an immediate and significant impact to their labor costs, and that’s going to have a ripple effect,” said Dawn Starns, Louisiana director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Starns said in a recent survey, 90 percent of NFIB’s 4,300 members in Louisiana said they oppose a minimum wage increase, worried the pay hike would cause harm to their operations.

The likelihood of passage for a minimum wage increase in Louisiana is dampened further by President Barack Obama’s push for an increase to $10.10 hourly at the federal level. The Democratic president is unpopular in the state, and his support of the wage hike nationally shapes the issue in more partisan tones.

Jindal, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, sharply criticized the president’s proposal this week, saying Obama shouldn’t be focused on a minimum wage economy but should be working to reduce government mandates as a way to bolster wage growth.

“It is undeniable that an increase in the wage floor will harm economic growth and hurt Louisiana families,” Jindal spokesman Mike Reed said in a statement.

The president has urged states to raise their minimum wages, saying it would help narrow the gap between rich and poor and calling it a way to help families make ends meet.

Twenty-one states have minimum wages above the federal level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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