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States Step In Where Congress Fails

By John Burton, Guest Contributor on May 18, 2005 at 1:55 pm

"States Step In Where Congress Fails"

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The same congressional session that aims to bring us the elimination of the Estate Tax and the dismantling of the Section 8 voucher program for families on the edge of homelessness (in some perverse way, I suppose these two policies fit hand in hand…”Estate for me…The Street for you!”) is probably not going to bring us real minimum wage legislation. The minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, it isn’t indexed for inflation, and it hasn’t been increased since 1997.

Fortunately, the minimum wage is one of those issues (unlike say, Iraq) where state legislatures and governors can step in where Washington has failed us. Sixteen states have a minimum wage that is set higher than the federal level.

Progressives working in states across the political spectrum (Nevada, Florida, New York, Maine, Rhode Island) successfully won minimum wage increases–whether by legislation or constitutional amendments approved by referendum. Minnesota increased its minimum wage this month. Hawaii, Wisconsin, and Maryland have moved forward and hope to have legislation passed and signed by summer.

Florida’s minimum wage increase (to $6.15 per hour) just went into effect earlier this month — despite some dirty attempts by Jeb Bush and the like-minded “corporate caucus” in the legislature — having been approved by over 70 percent of voters in November 2004. The Florida minimum wage will have ripple effects raising the incomes of those making more than the minimum wage.

What does this mean? At least, two things:

1. When Republicans and Democrats on the state level can work together to do what the majority in Washington, D.C. has failed to do — either the Majority in Congress is out of the mainstream ideologically or maybe they’ve been purchased.

2. Venting feels good but reform feels better. This is more evidence that progressives can effect change on the state level. So the next time Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida or Senator Allard of Colorado has a bad idea — progressives can work to block and to undo some of these things on the state level. It’s like Hollywood Squares. Go to the States for the Block.

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