By TERRY SPENCER
The Associated Press
Posted Feb. 5, 2019
FORT LAUDERDALE — The wealthy Florida attorney who pushed the state initiative legalizing medical marijuana has a new target – increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
John Morgan on Jan. 22 told an Orlando news conference that he’s submitting 120,000 signatures to get his initiative on the state’s November 2020 ballot, well over the 76,000 verified signatures that are required to get a judicial review. He would then need to reach a total of 766,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The measure calls for raising the current minimum wage from $8.46 an hour to $10 in September 2021 with $1 an hour increases annually until it reaches $15 in 2026, a level no state currently has but some will hit by the mid-2020s. Florida’s minimum wage is already higher than that of 22 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The federal minimum is $7.25 an hour.
Morgan, a personal injury lawyer, bankrolled a failed medical marijuana initiative in 2014 and one that passed in 2016. He said a minimum wage increase will benefit Florida companies through lower turnover and a more motivated workforce and help taxpayers as the government won’t have to subsidize low-income workers through welfare payments.
A $15 minimum would give workers food, water, shelter and medicine, allow families to afford childcare and lure people on welfare to get jobs, he said.
“The single greatest issue facing Florida and America today is a living wage,” Morgan said. “People are working harder and harder and getting further and further behind.”
The Florida Chamber of Commerce opposes the measure, saying small businesses would be hurt and that few Floridians are paid the minimum wage.
“Rather than adding another new mandate on local businesses, we should come together to ensure there’s a universal path to prosperity through job training that creates $50,000 careers for the 1.7 percent of Floridians earning a minimum wage full time,” spokeswoman Edie Ousley said.
Some of Florida’s biggest and better-known employers have already raised their minimum wage. Walt Disney World’s heavily unionized workforce last year approved a $15 minimum wage starting in 2021, while the non-union Universal Orlando Resort is raising its minimum pay to $12.
Walmart now has an $11 minimum wage, Target will pay $15 starting next year and Amazon is at $15.
Florida voters have a history of increasing the minimum wage. A 2004 initiative passed by a 71 to 29 percent margin that set the minimum wage at $6.15 an hour and then increases it every January based on inflation, which is how it reached its current level. Under Florida law, initiatives must receive 60 percent approval to pass.
The District of Columbia has the highest minimum wage at $13.25, while California and Massachusetts are at $12. Those two states, Washington D.C. and New York are scheduled to have $15 minimum wages – Washington D.C. by next year, California by 2022, Massachusetts by 2023 and New York at an undetermined date based on inflation.
Some cities such as Seattle have their own minimum wages that are higher than their state’s.
The effect minimum wages have on unemployment rates is debated by liberal and conservative economists. Liberals believe reasonable minimum wages improve the economy and lower unemployment rates by putting more money into the hands of low-income people who will spend it. Conservatives say minimum wage hikes lead to higher unemployment as businesses employ fewer low-wage workers and turn to automation to do low-skill tasks, pointing to fast-foot restaurants and supermarkets that now use self-serve cashiers.
The real world results are mixed. Some states that follow the federal standard such as Iowa, New Hampshire and Idaho have among the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but Louisiana and Mississippi follow the federal standard and have high unemployment.
On the other side, states with higher minimum wages such as Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts have low unemployment rates, while California and New York are slightly above the national average. The District of Columbia’s unemployment rate of 5.5 percent is topped only by Alaska’s 6.3 percent – its minimum wage is $9.89 an hour.