SD Democrats fight for a higher minimum wage

SD Democrats fight for a higher minimum wage
State Rep. Eldon Nygaard, D – Vermillion, said Friday that "It is time to match words to action and add some substance to the rhetoric surrounding the minimum wage in South Dakota.

He has co-sponsored two bills to do just that. Rep. Nygaard joined Sen. Koetzle, Rep. Engels and Rep. Miles at a press conference introducing the Democratic legislative caucus's 2007 agenda. They are united in the concern that the legislation is greatly needed and long overdue.

Gas prices since the last increase have nearly doubled and rent, food and utility costs continue to rise. As the minimum wage is at its lowest real value in 50 years and continues to decline, this legislation couldn't come at a more critical time. The February 2007 issue of State Legislatures magazine reports, "Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted minimum wages that are higher than the federal rate of $5.15."

SD state legislative Democrats propose two bills that generally align themselves with federal legislation. If enacted, these bills – a Senate bill primed by Sen. Koetzle and a House bill primed by Rep. Engels – will result in the first increase in South Dakota in 10 years. Both seek to raise the standard of living for those who work one, two and increasingly three minimum-wage jobs to support themselves and their families. Sen. Koetzle's bill schedules the first increase for July 1, 2008, as does the bill by Rep. Engels. However, the two slightly differ. The House bill links future increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

"Ten states already have annual increases to the minimum wage to keep up with the Consumer Price Index," said Rep. Engels. Nygaard pointed out that nine of these did so through direct initiative. Engels also points out that, "This helps businesses avoid the shock of a large increase all at once, and also helps employees pay the increasing cost of necessities like gas, rent, utilities and groceries." Rep. Nygaard said that the need for this increase in the minimum wage has been demonstrated in the groundswell of grassroots support for this type of legislation.

Rep. Koetzle pointed out that, "As the governor has stated in his State of the State message every year 'it is the duty of the government to help its citizens in need' and following that mind set, we propose today to increase the income to our most needy South Dakotan – those that work for the minimum wage." Rep. Nygaard was quick to add that "Across America today, at the federal and state level, there is rhetoric on both sides of the aisle to establish a higher minimum wage."

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