By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s minimum wage won't see an increase this year after an attempt to raise it died Monday night on the floor of the state House of Representatives.
House Bill 273, sponsored by House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, failed on its first reading by a 36-23 vote. In its original form, the bill would have increased the state's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. While state law sets the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour supersedes the state rate for the vast majority of workplaces.
Even with an amendment by several Republicans to only raise the state's minimum wage to the federal rate, HB 273 wasn't able to gain any support.
Connolly tried to convince her colleagues in the House that raising the state's minimum wage would help restore the dignity of work for those struggling to get by. An increase would help low wage earners rely less on social services and government assistance, she said.
A full-time employee working 52 weeks per year at the federal minimum wage would make about $15,000 per year before taxes. An increase to $8.50 would be $17,680 annually.
"We have adults who are earning minimum wage in this state, leading to a tremendous amount of economic insecurity," Connolly said during debate. "If you're an adult with a toddler, minimum wage won't make it in any one of our counties."
Connolly said the common misconception is that minimum wage is being earned by young people. But she pointed to a recent study that showed two-thirds of those making minimum wage in Wyoming were 25 or older.
Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, questioned whether someone being paid $8.50 an hour would be making a "dignified wage," or if even $12 an hour could be considered dignified. He said employers would pay employees what they're worth, and used his own example of paying high school students more than minimum wage.
Larsen questioned whether there were many adults making minimum wage in the state and said the government should just let the free market decide rates of pay.
"We have this discussion every other session since I've been in (the Legislature)," Larsen said. "For you sitting in this body, how many of you would go home and say, 'If I can make $8.50 an hour, that's a dignified wage'?
"Let the business owners determine what that person is worth. And I think you have a choice, if you don't believe you're being justly compensated, to look someplace else."