Doyle initiates lift of minimum wage

"An increase in the minimum wage wouldn't make much of a difference," said Rep. Jean Hundertmark (R-Clintonville). "Few employers pay minimum wage." She said the governor wants to bring in higher paying jobs, but "doesn't think raising the minimum wage is the way to do it."

Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) disagreed.

"My query would be, if no one is making $5.15, I say why not raise it," Hansen said. He said the state has not raised minimum wage since 1997 and "minimum wage won't keep a family out of poverty." He agreed with trying to bring high-income jobs to the city, but said, "let's take care of people on the bottom end, too."

According to Rose Lynch, communication director for the Department of Workforce Development, the governor has called for a "wage council" to analyze the question and determine how much the minimum wage should be increased.

She said the council has not been assembled yet, but it will include representatives from interested groups, including "employers, employees, members of the legislature and the public."

One concern opponents are raising is the idea that a higher minimum wage means more expenses for companies, especially small businesses, which may lead to lay-offs.

Economics professor Gene Smiley said if Doyle is going to raise the minimum wage, "why not raise it to $10.15, or $20.15? Why not just raise it to $50 per hour? The state does not have the ability to raise minimum wage and make sure everyone keeps their jobs."

Hansen referred to information from the AFL-CIO Web site and said other states, including Washington, Maine and Hawaii, have raised the minimum wage.

"We should ask these states how much damage this has done to small business," he said.

"There is no evidence" raising the minimum wage will lead to lay-offs, said Dan Leistikow, spokesman for Doyle.

"Raising the minimum wage puts money in the pockets of the people who will spend it, and that will help the economy," he said.

Another problem opponents have with the increase is the lack of an increase at the federal level.

"I would prefer that the state minimum wage was tied to the federal minimum wage," Hundertmark said.

"This is more confusing bureaucracy for Wisconsin employers to deal with," said Jim Pugh, spokesman for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a statewide, non-profit business association representing Wisconsin businesses. "We should have one minimum wage for the United States of America."

He said the state needs "commitment to make Wisconsin a better place to do business, not a government mandate to raise the minimum wage."

"There are 130,000 workers on minimum wage," Leistikow said. "This is good for our economy, and it is good for families."