More than 300,000 valid signatures are needed to get the plan on the ballot.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Ohio Senate Democratic leader says she plans to work toward placing a ballot initiative in front of voters in November 2006 to raise the minimum wage.
Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland, D-21st, said legislation she introduced in the Senate in January to increase the minimum wage stands no chance of being approved by the Republican-controlled legislative body.
Instead, Prentiss said she and others will work to collect the needed 322,899 valid signatures from state voters to get the proposal on the November 2006 ballot as a constitutional amendment. Prentiss said it is a challenging task, but one that is desperately needed in Ohio. She will first present the amendment's language by Aug. 1 to the state attorney general, who needs to approve the language. Prentiss wants to start getting signatures by this Labor Day.
The state and federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. That amount hasn't changed since 1997. Also, certain businesses in Ohio that earn between $150,000 and $500,000 annually can pay employees $4.25 an hour, she said.
The state has never increased its minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, which was first implemented in 1938 at 25 cents an hour, Prentiss said.
Prentiss wants to increase the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2006. But that would be impossible because Prentiss wants to place the amendment on the November 2006 ballot.
Her proposal would increase the state minimum wage to $7.15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2007, and adjust the wage on Sept. 30 beginning in 2007 based on the rate of inflation for the previous 12 months, and make the increase effective on Jan. 1 of the following year.
Prentiss held a press conference Thursday with three state legislators from the Mahoning Valley outside the Youngstown Unemployment Processing Center on South Avenue.
"This is a moral issue," she said. "It's immoral for a person to work 40 hours a week at $5.15 an hour."
The $10,712 a year that a person would make working a full-time minimum wage job would be below the federal poverty level.
More than 700,000 people in Ohio, most of them adults, earn minimum wage at their job, Prentiss said.
About 30,000 children in Mahoning County and 23 percent of all county residents live in poverty, said state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, who supports the minimum wage increase.
Minimum wage jobs include those in the hospitality and retail industries, Prentiss said.
"My gut feeling is we'd be against it primarily because we don't believe in circumventing the state Legislature," said John Mahaney, president of the 3,300-member Ohio Council of Retail Merchants. "The Legislature didn't take action on the bill, and we believe that says a lot."
Also, the 2,500-member Ohio Restaurant Association, opposes the proposal.
"Our reaction is it hurts small businesses," said Tom Withgott, the association's director of government affairs. "Small businesses can't afford to pay the increased rate. If the rate increases, some businesses would have to lay off employees."
Prentiss said companies that pay minimum wages to employees drain the state's financial resources.
"Those employees are being subsidized by the government," she said.
That's because many minimum wage workers receive federal and/or state financial assistance based on their earned income, Prentiss said.
U.S. House Republicans also recently refused to permit a vote on a Democratic bill to raise the minimum wage.