BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ push to raise Louisiana’s minimum wage crashed again in the Senate, leaving the state’s lowest-wage workers to be paid at the federal rate of $7.25 per hour.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 7-3 Wednesday against the proposal from Sen. Troy Carter, a New Orleans Democrat. The vote split along party lines, with Democrats supporting the wage hike and Republicans opposing it. It was the same panel where a similar bill stalled last year.
“We talk a lot about family values in Louisiana, but when the Legislature had the opportunity to actively value families, it failed,” Edwards, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Carter’s bill would have boosted the minimum wage to $8 per hour in 2018 and to $8.50 an hour a year later.
Supporters said the wage increase would lift people out of poverty and make them less-reliant on government-financed services, giving 85,000 Louisiana workers an estimated $852 pay increase on average.
“A better-funded, better-paid (worker) benefits Louisiana, benefits families, benefits communities,” Carter said. He added: “We’re asking for the tiniest sliver of an increase, to send a message to the people of Louisiana that we want to help them, that we feel their pain.”
Sen. Greg Tarver, a Shreveport Democrat and business owner, said he pays employees above minimum wage, adhering to the belief that if “you take care of your employees, they take care of you.” He chastised lawmakers for doing more for companies than for their workers.
“We give all these businesses a tax break, and we can’t give our own people in Louisiana a dollar an hour? Something’s wrong there,” Tarver said. “Let’s help the little man sometimes. We always help the big boys.”
Opponents said the higher pay could harm businesses and cause them to lay off some employees to pay other workers higher wages.
“You may be jeopardizing the very jobs those folks have,” said Sen. Conrad Appel, a Metairie Republican, echoing the arguments made by business organizations.
Appel said income will rise when the state’s economy improves and grows. He said Louisiana’s efforts are better spent working toward that goal.
Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, from Slidell, said she believes businesses will pay more to their workers when it’s in their best interest to do that. If forced to boost pay, “businesses are going to look for ways to minimize expenses and maximize their profits,” she said.
Senators on both sides of the debate referenced competing sets of data, describing improved economic conditions in areas with a higher minimum wage, or decreased jobs where the wage went up.
Sen. Jack Donahue, a Mandeville Republican, said $7.50 an hour isn’t a “livable wage.” But he said people can improve their economic conditions with available education programs.
New Orleans Sen. Wesley Bishop, a Democrat, told opponents the debate shouldn’t have to return year after year: “At some point we have to help the folks who need the most help.”
Twenty-nine states have minimum wages above the federal level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Voting for the minimum wage bill were Sens. Bishop, Tarver and Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. Voting against it were Sens. Appel; Donahue; Hewitt; Bret Allain, R-Franklin; Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro; Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur; and Mack “Bodi” White, R-Baton Rouge. Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, didn’t vote.