BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Efforts to increase Louisiana’s minimum wage, which currently aligns with the federal rate of $7.25 an hour, were rejected in a Republican-controlled legislative committee Wednesday — a day after lawmakers advanced a bill that would double their own salaries.
The failed bill would have gradually increased the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2024 and to $14 an hour in 2028. Louisiana has the second-highest poverty rate in the country, with nearly 19% of the population impoverished, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Sometimes I wonder if Louisiana wants to do better, if Louisiana wants to grow,” Democratic state Rep. Tammy Phelps, who voted in favor of the bill, said to fellow lawmakers and audience members at Wednesday’s committee meeting. “It’s always resonated with me, ‘Why have we not moved forward?’ And I apologize, I can’t give you that answer.”
Proponents of raising the minimum wage argue that doing so would make Louisiana more competitive with other states — improving the economy with more money available to be spent, retain the state’s population that saw some of the steepest decreases in the country and improve the overall lives of residents who struggle to afford necessities on slim paychecks.
“Our citizens are hurting and struggling to survive,” said Democratic state Rep. Ed Larvadain, who sponsored the bill.
Supporters of the legislation, including Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, say that it is far past time for the state to increase the minimum wage. Thirty states have enacted minimum wages higher than the federal law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Opponents say the bill would hurt business owners, placing a financial burden on them. Additionally, some argued that the responsibility of advancing one’s career falls on individuals — by seeking a higher-paying job or obtaining more skills.
“We’re trying to improve the lives of our residents in our state, especially those who have lower incomes. But I believe that the free market is taking care of this by offering jobs with higher wages,” said Republican state Rep. Beryl Amedee, who voted against the bill. “The real problem we have is that we have a lot of people in the state who are not qualified for higher skilled jobs, better paying jobs.”
Members of the House Labor Committee voted along party lines, 9-5, against the bill. A similar minimum wage bill is scheduled to be heard by a Senate committee.
Multiple salary increases are being discussed this legislative session, including a push by Gov. Edwards to give teachers a $3,000 pay raise.
On Tuesday, lawmakers in a House committee voted, 8-4, in favor of a bill that would increase state legislators’ pay. The current salary of lawmakers is $16,800. The bill would raise pay to 75% of the state median income, which would be about $40,000.
“If we feel that the people who are making these laws should get $40,000, then why can’t we give poor folks $10 an hour,” Democratic state Rep. Kenny Cox said during Wednesday’s debate on minimum wage.
The bill to increase lawmakers’ pay will advance to the House floor for debate.