By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - An initiative seeking to raise Missouri's minimum wage is a step closer to making the ballot after a state judge upheld the summary that voters would see.
A group supporting the initiative said Thursday that it plans to turn in petition signatures next week to the secretary of state's office to qualify the measure for the November ballot. A judge on Wednesday rejected claims that the initiative summary prepared by the secretary of state's office was unfair or insufficient.
"We think it's good news. We're one step closer to making sure that the will of Missouri voters is being respected and we all get a chance to vote on this," said Lara Granich, director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, which is backing the initiative.
But more hurdles may remain for the initiative. Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem has scheduled a hearing Tuesday on a challenge to the auditor's financial summary. In a previous unrelated case, Beetem struck down the auditor's authority to prepare financial summaries for initiatives - calling into question whether the signatures on petitions bearing fiscal summaries can be counted.
The auditor has estimated that the minimum wage initiative could cost state and local governments more than $1 million annually in additional wages, but that income and sales taxes could increase by $14.4 million annually as a result of the larger paychecks.
The same group backing this year's minimum wage initiative also supported a successful 2006 ballot measure that raised Missouri's minimum wage to $6.50 an hour with an annual cost-of-living adjustment. That measure included a provision requiring Missouri to abide by the federal minimum wage, if it was higher than the state minimum. Consequently, Missouri is currently following the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
If approved by voters, the new measure would raise Missouri's minimum wage to $8.25 an hour beginning in 2013 with an annual cost-of-living adjustment in subsequent years. The measure says that if the federal wage rises above Missouri's, then Missouri would adopt the federal wage and begin applying the cost-of-living adjustment to that.
"Those nickels and dimes that a cost-of-living adjustment gives working people" allows them to "keep buying as many gallons of milk and as many gallons of gas for your car as you could last year," Granich said.
Business groups have sought for several years to repeal Missouri's current cost-of-living adjustment on the minimum wage, but those bills have been unable to pass the Legislature.