The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill Tuesday evening that raises the minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2016 and ties future increases to inflation. Thurty-two senators voted yes, with seven voting no.
The state’s minimum wage has not been raised since 2008. Supporters argue an increase is past due.
Sen. Dan Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, is a cosponsor of the bill. He says the current minimum wage – $8 an hour – is too low.
“Hardworking people, working full time, paid our present minimum wage of 16,000 are living in poverty,” Wolf says. “That’s the reality.”
The bill also raises the minimum wage for tipped workers up to $5.50 an hour. Wolf says that change applies primarily to workers in bars and restaurants.
“The base minimum wage for that group hasn’t changed since 1999,” Wolf says. “And a deal was made last time the minimum wage [was increased] that they would be frozen at $2.63 an hour to be revisited later. Well, here we are 14 years later [and] it’s time to revisit the fate of that group.”
The Senate minority leader, Bruce Tarr, says Republicans agree the minimum wage should go up. But he says it should be done as part of a package that also provides relief to employers.
“This is not for us a debate about whether or not to visit and change the minimum wage,” Tarr says. “This in fact is a discussion about how to do that in the most appropriate way and in the context of other tools we might have.”
The bill now goes to the the House, where Speaker Robert Deleo has said he hopes to combine it with changes to unemployment insurance.
If the Senate legislation becomes law, Massachusetts would be on track to have the highest state minimum wage in the country. Earlier this week, Gov. Deval Patrick signaled his support for the bill.
New England Public Radio’s Henry Epp contributed to this report.