Legislature weighs minimum wage hike

by Andrew Culver | 3/29/19 9:24am

Both houses of the New Hampshire legislature have passed separate bills establishing a state minimum wage of $12 an hour by 2022. New Hampshire’s minimum wage defers to the federal standard of $7.25 an hour. This makes New Hampshire the only state in New England with a minimum wage under $10. 

Both bills outline incremental increases in the minimum wage over time. House Bill 186 establishes a three-year plan, increasing the minimum wage to $9.50 in 2020, $10.75 in 2021, and ultimately $12 in 2022. Senate Bill 10 moves to a $10 minimum wage in 2020 and an $11 or $12 wage depending on offered paid sick days in 2022. 

The bills passed their respective houses on party lines, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans opposing. 

Some Democrats said they viewed the bills as necessary in order to keep New Hampshire’s lower paid workers out of poverty. 

“New Hampshire is one of the wealthiest states in the country and our minimum wage should reflect that,” said Rep. Garrett Muscatel ’20 (D-Hanover). 

Supporters of both bills viewed the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 as unacceptably low. 

“You cannot live on the minimum wage anywhere in New Hampshire,” said Sen. Cindy Rosenwald (D-Hillsborough). 

Sen. Tom Sherman (D-Rockingham) echoed Rosenwald saying that it is impossible to support yourself, much less a family, on the current minimum wage. 

Rosenwald added that the low minimum wage contributes to reliance on public assistance programs and benefits — the costs of which ultimately fall to the state taxpayer. In New Hampshire, the “final stop” for public assistance lies with cities and towns, meaning property taxpayers have to “ante up to provide assistance to our poorest people,” Ronsenwald said.

The employers currently paying minimum wage in New Hampshire are primarily big box stores and fast food chains, said Rep. Linda Tanner (D-Sullivan). 

“For the most part, small businesses pay their employees more than [minimum wage] because they value their employees,” she said. 

Tanner added that since individuals making minimum wage often rely on state benefits, New Hampshire taxpayers are essentially subsidizing big box stores by allowing them to pay low wages in the state. 

A group of Democrats introduced a floor amendment seeking to add two more incremental wage increases so that the minimum wage would hit $15 an hour by 2024, but the amendment failed with bipartisan opposition. 

Some Republicans said they viewed the bills as having potentially dangerous effects on New Hampshire businesses and the economy. 

Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) said that the minimum wage increase comes as the legislature is pushing forward many other measures, such as a capital gains tax and a recent paid family leave bill, that might increase the financial burden on employers. The combination of these measures amounts to a “big hit on the business community,” Bradley said.

Rep. Jack Flanagan (R-Hillsborough) also cited adverse impacts on the economy, saying that the increase in the minimum wage could “cause employers to lay off workers or reduce their hours because they have a finite amount of money to pay for labor.”

Bradley and Flanagan also both noted the relatively low number of New Hampshire citizens currently receiving a minimum wage. 

“The demographic of people affected by minimum wage is not a significant number,” Flanagan said.  

The potential for minimum wage jobs to be replaced by automation as wages increase also concerned Republican lawmakers. Bradley said that increasing the minimum wage would “accelerate” automation and force out lower-paying and entry-level jobs. 

“People get confused that a minimum wage means a livable wage, and it does not,” Flanagan said.

In order to consolidate the two bills, there will likely be an agreement on which of the bills to move forward with, or a committee of conference to “iron out any final differences” between the two bills. The bill would then have to pass the legislature before being sent to Gov. Chris Sununu (R), Rosenwald said. 

Sununu previously criticized attempts to raise the minimum wage to $15 while running for reelection last year, but it is unclear whether he would issue a veto if one of the bills reaches his desk in the future. 

Flanagan said that he does not believe Democrats will have enough votes to override a potential veto from the governor. 

Dartmouth’s current minimum wage for student employees is set at $7.75 an hour and would be reviewed and addressed if the legislation was approved, chief human resources officer Scot Bemis wrote in an email. Dartmouth currently employs less than 10 people below the proposed 2020 minimum wage of $9.50 set by HB 186, although they currently receive more than the federal minimum. These employees’ wages would be brought up to the new minimum wage with minimal impact on the College, Bemis wrote.

Sununu’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the bills.