Should Idaho raise its minimum wage? Group thinks it's overdue

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) - A group of religious, education and community activists is pushing for a ballot initiative that would raise Idaho's minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $9.80 an hour over the next four years.

The Spokesman-Review reports that about 30 members of the group rallied Saturday morning in Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Park.

The group, led by Anne Nesse, contends that Idaho's meager compensation compared to other states is a moral issue that needs to be handled by voters rather than the Legislature. Idaho is one of 21 states that enforce only the minimum hourly wage mandated by the federal government; neighboring Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.19 an hour.

Nesse, who unsuccessfully ran for the state Legislature last fall, acknowledged the group has a steep climb ahead. Efforts to increase the minimum wage haven't gained traction in the state Legislature. Most recently, a proposal from Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, failed to pass the House Commerce and Human Resources committee during the 2013 session.

Still, she said the group's proposal is modest, and that if approved by voters the state's minimum wage would be $8.10 in 2015, less than the federal bump to $9 an hour proposed by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address this year.

The effort is getting assistance from Liz Moore with the Peace and Justice Action League in Spokane. Moore told the group she'd volunteered during a successful push in the late 1990s to raise Washington state's minimum wage and permanently tie it to the consumer price index.

Moore said the key to success for the Idaho proposal will be outreach in all parts of the state. The group estimates they will need about 84,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot for the 2014 election.

"It's a numbers game," Moore said.

Nesse filed the initiative before a new law took effect making the threshold for ballot inclusion more difficult to reach. Earlier this year, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed the law requiring all initiatives to garner signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in a majority of the state's legislative districts, as opposed to just 6 percent of registered voters statewide. The new law takes effect July 1, and Nesse said it would likely stifle future grass-roots efforts to raise a ballot issue.

"This will probably be our last stand, so it's really important," Nesse said.

Lakes Middle School teacher Warren Ducote, who attended the rally, said he sees firsthand the effect of poverty on students' emotional and physical well-being.

"You see the depression, the anger that's built up inside, the kids acting up and being unable to focus on school," Ducote said.


Information from: The Spokesman-Review