- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Minimum wage workers in Montana would receive about a 25 percent increase in hourly pay under legislation proposed in the Senate.

Democratic Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy of Box Elder called Senate Bill 2 an economic development measure as he introduced it in the Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

The state’s minimum wage would rise to $10.10 per hour from the current $8.05 starting January 2016 under the measure. The minimum wage also would be subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment.

Additionally, business owners with up to 50 employees would be able to claim tax credits for three years to offset the costs of providing higher wages.

Windy Boy said this would give small business owners time to adjust to the change.

“So a wage hike and tax breaks would even things out there,” he said.

State Commissioner of Labor and Industry Pam Bucy said she spoke for Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in supporting the bill, saying it would increase the standard of living and purchasing power for Montanans.

“In real terms, after adjusting for inflation, Montana’s minimum wage was higher in the 70’s than it is now,” she said.

Sheena Rice, with social justice group Montana Organizing Project, said a study from the Seattle-based Alliance for Justice in Society shows that $14.40 per hour is a living wage for a single adult in Montana.

“The current minimum wage falls far short of what Montana families need to get by … but $10.10 is a good start,” Rice said.

The Montana Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill, however, and its government relations director Glen Oppel said the move would lead to higher rates of unemployment in the state.

“We appreciate the intent of the bill but oppose it for its challenges for business owners,” he said.

This issue was decided when voters approved a ballot measure in 2006 to raise the minimum wage annually according to inflation, Brad Griffin, the executive director of the Montana Restaurant Association, said.

“The initiative is doing its job,” he said, adding that the state’s minimum wage has risen 24 percent in the last four years.

The Department of Labor and Industry estimates 12,850 Montana workers, or 2.9 percent of the workforce, received hourly wages less than $8.05 an hour in 2014.

Twenty-nine states, including Montana, and Washington D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 as of Jan. 1 of this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The bill is likely to face resistance in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

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