Governor Terry Branstad has done it again. The master of promising to raise family incomes while opposing specific policies to achieve that goal caused a stir this morning by hinting he might be open to raising Iowa's minimum wage, last increased in January 2007.
Don't be fooled. Branstad is not committed to a higher minimum wage. He's angling to shut down local efforts to establish a livable wage.
Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson posted the audio from this morning's press conference and a few highlights:
“I think it would be wise for us to carefully review the workforce and what the needs are out there and look at what neighboring states have done and what is competitive,” Branstad said during his weekly news conference. “I would prefer that we have a uniform, statewide minimum wage rather than a hodgepodge of county-by-county, city-by-city minimum wages that could be, I think, very confusing for people.”
Context: Johnson County became the first local government in Iowa to raise its minimum wage last year. Supervisors in Linn County and Wapello County adopted similar policies last month. Two weeks ago, Polk County supervisors voted for an ordinance raising the minimum wage for most workers, except for teenagers and tipped workers.
Back to Branstad's comments this morning:
“Now we’re seeing this activity in several counties and I think it becomes a challenge and difficult for many businesses and many people,” Branstad said. “It would be better if we had a uniform, statewide minimum wage.” [...]
“I’m going to work with the legislature, once the legislative elections are completed, to see if there is bipartisan support to address this difficult issue,” Branstad said. “...It’s not easy.”
After the Des Moines Register's William Petroski reported a story initially headlined, "Branstad backs statewide minimum wage hike," the governor's staff posted on Twitter, "(1/2) CLARIFICATION: Gov. Branstad did NOT back statewide min. wage hike, said it's time to carefully review #iagov #ialegis". Shortly followed by, "(2/2) Gov. wants to work with #ialegis-I think it would be wise for us to carefully review and look at what neighboring states have done".
As Radio Iowa noted, every state that borders Iowa has a higher minimum wage, from
$7.56 $7.65 in Missouri to $9.50 in Minnesota. CORRECTION: Wisconsin's minimum wage is the same as Iowa's, $7.25.
I asked the governor's office what kind of careful review Branstad had in mind. If Iowa's minimum wage has not kept up with rising costs of living (a well-documented fact) or the minimum wage in neighboring states, would the governor support an increase?
Spokesperson Ben Hammes replied that the clarification was a response to the Des Moines Register story, for which the headline was soon altered: "Branstad to explore minimum wage hike." Hammes added,
Gov. Branstad never said that he was backing a statewide minimum wage hike, but that he has indicated a willingness to work with the Iowa legislature in studying what other states and how we would make Iowa even more competitive. Regardless, Gov. Branstad wants a statewide minimum wage.
Here’s what he said:
“I think it would be wise for us to carefully review the workforce and what the needs are out there and look at what neighboring states have done and what is competitive," the governor told reporters at his weekly news briefing.
Branstad already knows Iowa's minimum wage is lower than almost every neighboring state's. The Iowa Policy Project has conclusively demonstrated that meeting a "basic needs budget" in Iowa is not possible on the current minimum wage--even for single people and childless couples.
If the governor's primary concern were "the needs out there," he would endorse a higher minimum wage right now. But he knows business lobby groups oppose raising the wage. So do most Iowa Republican lawmakers. For decades, whenever the GOP has controlled either or both chambers of the Iowa legislature, they have blocked legislation to raise the minimum wage. Branstad is actively campaigning for GOP candidates around the state, hoping they will hold the Iowa House and win an Iowa Senate majority next month.
Democratic leaders in the Iowa House and Senate might be able to negotiate with the governor on raising the incomes of low-wage workers.
If Republicans are in charge at the statehouse, take this to the bank: the legislative discussion will be all about stopping local governments from adopting a "hodgepodge of county-by-county, city-by-city minimum wages." The Iowa GOP long ago stopped caring about local control in any meaningful way.