Fisher, Pearce on board to stop wage escalator

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vernon County's representatives in the Missouri General Assembly back eliminating the state's minimum wage escalator provision, indicating the measure stands a good chance of gaining House and Senate approval and reaching Gov. Jay Nixon's desk.

Joined by Republican Rep. Barney Fisher, District 125, state representatives approved House Bill 61 Tuesday by a 96-61 vote to rescind the automatic adjustment that could bring a higher minimum wage than the federally mandated $7.25 per hour.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, declared his support Thursday of Republican Rep. Jerry Nolte of Gladstone's proposal whether the Senate takes up that bill or passes a similar plan of its own.

Fisher said he had sided with the majority because the 2006 law that created the escalator "had too many unintended consequences.

"For example, we had to fix it later because it hadn't taken into account the shifts and overtime of firefighters and police officers," Fisher said. "From 1935 to '06, Missouri never exceeded the federal minimum wage, and we could have even had a decrease if the Consumer Price Index went the wrong way.

"This eliminates the possibility of anybody's pay ever going down."

Explaining that a wage hike would have made the state's unemployment situation even worse, Fisher said, "After the last raise in '07, 30 restaurants closed in Columbia, and we heard testimony from restaurateurs in Joplin last year that they would have to lay off employees.

"It was screwed up and we tidied it up to make sure it never exceeds the federal rate and nobody gets a pay cut. It's a horse race to see whether the House bill or Senate bill will cross the finish line first."

Pearce said he will vote for Nolte's bill or a Senate version of it "because those decisions are best left up to individual businesses.

"I think those automatic escalators are detrimental to businesses," he said. "I can't guarantee it, but I think it will be favorably met in the Senate."

Pearce is also backing Fisher's HB 163 to extend unemployment benefits from 79 to 99 weeks.

However, he said that with St. Louis Republican Sen. Jim Lembke's filibuster against the proposal, the Senate hadn't been able to bring it to a vote.

"Sen. Lembke says Gov. Nixon is spending too much money and we have to cut back on benefits," said Pearce.

"I don't agree. The final 20 weeks have tougher requirements. If the recipients are offered a job, they can't turn it down like they can in the first 79 weeks, and if they're overpaid, they have to pay it back."

He explained that in authorizing the extension, Congress left it up to each state to enact it.

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