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GOP lawmaker proposes a $15/hour minimum wage to head off possible ballot issue

$15 on an American flag
JJ Gouin
$15 on an American flag

Democratic lawmakers in the Ohio Legislature have tried for years to raise the minimum wage, but their bills went nowhere in the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Now, as backers of an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour starting in 2026 are gathering signatures to put the measure before voters this fall, a Republican state senator has come out with legislation that he said will accomplish that goal in a better way.

Sen. Bill Blessing (R-Colerain Twp.) said his bill would raise the wage to $15 for non-tipped workers over four years starting in 2028. Tipped workers would receive $7.50 an hour.

Ohio currently has a non-refundable tax credit for lower-income workers, but Blessing said his plan would offer a refundable earned income tax credit that would even provide lower-income workers with a tax refund in some cases.

“The two ideas – the increase in the minimum wage and the EITC – work better together than each of them do on their own,” Blessing said.

Backers of the planned referendum react

But backers of the amendment say workers shouldn’t have to wait four years to get the impact of the wage hike.

Michael Shields, an economist with Policy Matters Ohio, points out that under the proposed amendment, workers would get the full $15 hourly wage in two years. Plus, Shields said it's a constitutional amendment so lawmakers cannot change it or take it away altogether, something he said has happened in other states.

And Shields said by not giving all workers $15 an hour, “it leaves people out.”

But Blessing said the concern is for tipped workers who now earn more than $15 an hour.

“It boils down to a lot of these folks that were doing much better than the non-tipped wage worrying about going back down to a $15 an hour level because people choose not to tip anymore,” Blessing said.

Why now?

There is another bill in the legislature to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, proposed by Democrats. But Republicans have been reluctant to embrace that idea. Shields points out Blessing’s bill was introduced as the coalition supporting the amendment is gathering signatures for the fall ballot.

“I think it’s notable that Sen. Blessing has introduced this after many Ohioans have signed a petition saying we want to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour,”Shields said. “I’m encouraged that we are seeing more agreement across the political spectrum that this is needed. I think that voters have been there for a long time.”

No minimum wage proposals put before voters have lost in any state since the 1990s.

Copyright 2024 The Statehouse News Bureau