Some say Granite State workers need a minimum wage increase. But others say it would devastate small businesses and the hospitality industry.
It will be up to New Hampshire lawmakers to decide when they consider a bill this session that would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 in 2015, then to $9 in 2016.
A new poll says most of those surveyed back the proposed increase, with 76 percent of the 584 state residents questioned in favor of the bill. Gov. Maggie Hassan called for an increase in the minimum wage in her State of the State address Thursday.
Hearing the governor push for an increase pleased Sally Kelly.
Kelly, a Democratic state representative from Chichester, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1403, which would increase the minimum wage.
“That was very exciting,” she said. “I was thrilled to hear her. I didn’t know that was in her speech.”
Hassan referenced Kelly in her address, asking the business community to work with lawmakers to come up with an increase that would benefit workers and industry.
“The time is right now, this is a moderate increase,” Kelly said Friday. “This will put money back into our economy.”
The bill is receiving support from both Democrats and Republicans, even though many GOP lawmakers have failed to back such legislation in the past, she said.
Rep. Mary Till, D-Derry, is among those who believe a higher minimum wage is needed to help low-income workers and boost the economy.
“I’m a firm believer in trying to grow the economy from the middle out,” she said. “I’m a firm believer in raising the minimum wage.”
The first hearing on the bill is Tuesday before the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee. Kelly is the committee’s vice chairman. The committee is expected to vote on whether to recommend the legislation Feb. 18, she said.
Kelly said she was reluctant to propose an increase until now because of the state’s slumping economy. The wage has remained the same since 2007, she said.
“I did not think the time was accurate,” she said. “I do see the recovery happening now.”
Raising the wage until now would have hurt restaurants and many small businesses that rely on minimum-wage workers to remain in operation, she said. It has not increased since 2007, Kelly said.
That’s a main reason minimum wage legislation has been killed by lawmakers in recent years, including in 2013.
A 2011 law that repealed New Hampshire’s minimum wage law in favor of the federal rate was backed by most of Southern New Hampshire’s Republican-dominated legislative delegation. Including New Hampshire, 19 states use the federal minimum wage.
They included Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, who continues to believe the higher minimum wages proposed by Democrats would hurt New Hampshire businesses.
“A lot of what the Democrats do is not to help the people of New Hampshire. It’s to follow the agenda of the national party,” he said. “It would hurt the state of New Hampshire.”
Weyler said many small businesses, especially restaurants, could not afford an increase and they would have to lay off workers.
“You imperil their jobs by increasing the minimum wage because the hospitality industry will have a struggle,” he said. “It will cost us jobs — I’m not in favor of it. We would also make it difficult for employers to start up.”
University of New Hampshire political science professor Andrew Smith, head of the UNH Survey Center, said the poll released Thursday shows widespread support for an increase.
The Granite State Poll, conducted between Jan. 28 and Feb. 2, surveyed 568 randomly selected state residents. Fifty-nine percent “strongly” supported the increase while 17 percent were “somewhat” in support.
Meanwhile, 8 percent were “strongly” in opposition and 5 percent were “somewhat” opposed. Eight percent said “don’t know” and 3 percent were neutral.
Of those polled who favored the bill, 91 percent were Democrats, 70 percent were independents and 64 were Republicans. Of those opposed, 24 percent were Republicans, 17 percent were independents and 2 percents were Democrats. The margin for error was plus or minus 4 percent.