Branstad fears tea party opposition to minimum wage hike, Hatch says

'This governor hasn't lifted a finger to get this bill passed'

James Q. Lynch
Published: March 4 2014 | 11:29 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:08 am in

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Sen. Jack Hatch called on Gov. Terry Branstad to give 300,000 Iowans a raise by signing legislation increasing Iowa’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage.

Flanked by two dozen fellow Democratic lawmakers at a Statehouse news conference, Hatch challenged the five-term Republican to “lead from the front” on an issue that would help low-wage Iowa workers meet their families’ needs and lessen their dependence on public assistance.

“This governor hasn’t lifted a finger to get this bill passed,” Hatch charged, claiming that Branstad is “scared of tea party people.”

He pointed out that Branstad has previously signed a minimum wage increase. In 1989, he signed a bill raising it from $4.25 to $4.65.

“If he announced today that he would support raising the minimum wage and asked the Iowa House Republicans, that bill would be down on his desk by the end of the week,” Hatch said. He’s asking the governor “to be in charge of his party and ask his colleagues to raise minimum wage.”

That’s not likely to happen, according to Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. Rather than ask House majority Republicans to raise the minimum wage, he ask them to protect him from either signing or vetoing an increase.

“I am confident that the governor will tell them he doesn’t want to see that bill on his desk,” Gronstal said. “He’ll say, ‘Protect me.’”

Republicans haven’t responded to Democratic “entreaties” on the minimum wage, Gronstal said, but left open the possibility there’s room for compromise on the amount of an increase and the phase-in period.

House Labor Committee Chairman Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, is waiting for the Senate to send over a minimum wage bill before opening a discussion among the committee and GOP colleagues. In the meantime, representatives of the private sector are asking him to resist an increase to the $10.10 increase in Senate legislation.

“Several people have given me anecdotal evidence that the last time we raised the minimum wage it was devastating to their businesses and cost people their jobs,” said Forristall, who called the minimum wage increase an “easy and simplistic” approach to a larger problem.

Iowa last raised the minimum wage in 2007 from $5.15 to $7.25 over two years.

“I’d rather commit to giving people the education and training they need to get skilled, middle class jobs,” he said.

That appears to be the tack Branstad is taking, too.

“More Iowans are working today than at any point in our state's history,” spokesman Tommy Schultz said. “More than 130,000 jobs have been created and the unemployment rate has dropped to the fifth lowest in the nation at 4.2 percent.”

The administration, Schultz said, “will continue to recruit high quality jobs to Iowa and strive to create an environment where family incomes grow, the unemployment rate remains low, and businesses can expand and hire more Iowans.”

Hatch cited a recent study showing an Iowa family with two parents working would need a wage for each parent of $13.35 an hour just to meet basic needs.

He also noted that Illinois has a minimum wage of $8.25, and Missouri’s is $7.50. Minnesota is considering a hike from $6.15 to $9.50.

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