Column: Labor Day honors the people who make America runSeptember 2 is Labor Day. That’s the day we honor the people who built America and continue to make it run — the men and women who fix our roads, teach our kids, built our schools and protect our lives.
By: Erik Simonson, For the Budgeteer News
September 2 is Labor Day. That’s the day we honor the people who built America and continue to make it run — the men and women who fix our roads, teach our kids, built our schools and protect our lives.
It seems that one day is an inadequate time period in which to thank all of these these hard-working folks.
In Minnesota, however, over the past decade, our union members and hard-working middle class haven’t felt the love from their lawmakers. Republicans have tried to chip away at union members’ rights and balanced their budgets on the backs of middle-class families.
That’s why I wanted to make sure that the 2012 legislature took a different tact. No more talk of making Minnesota a “Right to Work” state, like there was the previous year. And DFL lawmakers passed legislation that will give our hard-working Minnesotans a break.
One of the areas we took action on was property taxes. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has received a property tax statement from the county in the past decade, but property taxes have risen 86 percent over the last 10 years. To make matters worse, the GOP-controlled legislature in 2011 eliminated the Homestead Credit, causing property taxes to increase $370 million statewide.
We took quick action on that, passing a budget that provides for a $109 million property tax decrease in 2014. We created a new formula for Local Government Aid that will invest $130 million in our counties, cities and townships and included reforms — such as exempting local governments from paying sales taxes and levy limits. We also restored the Homestead Credit Refund and expanded the Renter’s Credit, putting another $135 million in direct property tax relief in Minnesotans’ pockets.
Our education budget means parents will no longer have to dig into their own pockets to pay for all-day kindergarten and get relief through a tuition freeze at the University of Minnesota and all Minnesota State Colleges and University System schools.
But for all we accomplished, we left one piece of the package undone. We need to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage.
Minnesota’s minimum hourly wage for large employers is $6.15 and for small employers $5.25. That’s well below the federal minimum wage ($7.25). Of states that have a minimum wage, only Georgia and Wyoming have lower minimum wages than Minnesota. That is one club we don’t want to be a member of.
You can’t live on our minimum wage, much less raise a family. Raising the minimum wage will help more working families make ends meet in Minnesota. The costs of health care, a mortgage, rent, groceries, fuel and transportation don’t wait for an increase in the minimum wage before they go up. As they soar, many people’s wages remain stagnant.
Consider this: The average price of gasoline is $3.50 in Minnesota. To fill your gas tank, you would have to work a full eight-hour day making the minimum wage. To pay one year’s college tuition at the University of Minnesota, you would have to work 2,163 hours at the minimum wage.
We haven’t raised the minimum wage since 2005. When we did, despite the naysaying, there were no job losses. There was no exodus of businesses from the state. In fact, employment grew 1.5 percent from 2005-2006 and average hourly wages rose 67 cents.
That’s why I support the efforts of DFL Representative Ryan Winkler, who has authored legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10.55 for employees who would work for large companies. A rate that high would truly be a livable wage as well as boost the state’s economy by giving this untapped sector real purchasing power.
So, as we celebrate this Labor Day, we should pause to thank many of the people who have improved our lives so much, and let’s dedicate ourselves to doing the same for them.
Erik Simonson (DFL) is the Minnesota state representative for District 7B.