Senate President Therese Murray’s push to give Massachusetts the highest minimum wage in the country drew a hostile reaction from business leaders Thursday, while Senate Democrats largely embraced the proposal as long overdue.
Murray said after meeting privately with Democrats Thursday afternoon that she would put a bill before the Senate next Tuesday to raise the state’s minimum wage, currently $8 an hour, to $11 an hour by January 2016 and to tie future increases to inflation.
Murray said the bill being released by the Senate Ways and Means Committee would be an attempt to restore the minimum wage in Massachusetts to its purchasing power if it had kept pace with inflation since 1968. The $11-an-hour wage proposed would surpass California’s move earlier this year to raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016.
“This isn’t even for the middle class; the middle class makes more than $11 an hour,” Murray said. “This is to give people something to move forward so that they can afford to stay here, particularly in the cities.”
After seeing the bill introduced Thursday, senators will have the weekend to consider amendments before a Monday 2 p.m. deadline to file additions or changes before Tuesday’s debate. The bill will also propose to tie future increases in the base wage rate to the consumer price index for the Northeast and to guarantee Massachusetts will have a minimum wage at least 50 cents higher than the federal minimum, now set at $7.25 an hour.
Senate minority leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, objected to the rushed way the bill emerged from Ways and Means and was put on the agenda for Tuesday, arguing that the impact the bill will have on the economic recovery could not be overstated.
Senator Daniel Wolf, a Harwich Democrat who is cochairman of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, said the bill should not come as a surprise five months after the committee held a hearing on minimum wage proposals. “I wouldn’t say this is premature; I would say it’s overdue,” Wolf said.
Business leaders blasted Murray’s decision without accompanying unemployment insurance changes that would offset the cost to small businesses.
“That’s a 37.5 percent increase the way I do my math,” said Bill Vernon, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “That’s very significant, and frankly it’s dangerous. It will obviously hurt teen employment and make it that much more expensive.”