ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida voters on Tuesday approved raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next six years, which advocates say will lift the pay for hundreds of thousands of workers in the state’s service-heavy economy.
A supermajority of Florida voters approved the amendment to the Florida Constitution that will raise Florida’s minimum wage from the current $8.56 an hour to $15 an hour by 2026.
Although Florida’s current minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, supporters of Amendment 2 said it is impossible to live on that wage given the state’s cost of living. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will increase the income of a quarter of Florida’s workforce, according to the Florida Policy Institute.
“Floridians are making clear that it’s time to move the needle on shared prosperity,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute.
Florida joins seven other states that have made plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next several years.
For Lakeland resident Faith Booker, getting $15 an hour in pay down the road means she won’t have to work two jobs and she can spend more time with her five children whose ages range from 1 to 14. Booker earns $9.70 an hour as a cashier at a McDonald’s restaurant and $8.56 an hour in the same job at a Burger King restaurant.
“Oh my gosh … that will be a big change for me,” Booker said Tuesday night. “Sometimes I’m just short and have to pick and choose which bills to pay.”
Opponents of Amendment 2 said it will stifle growth as Florida’s battered tourism economy recovers from the impact of the new coronavirus and businesses won’t be able to afford the increases, resulting in layoffs.
Amendment 2 will raise Florida’s minimum wage gradually over the next six years. Under the six-year phase-in, minimum wage would go up to $10 an hour starting next year, followed by a $1 per hour increase each year until it reached $15 an hour in 2026. Future increases would then return to being adjusted for inflation starting in 2027.
The effort to get the amendment on the ballot was initiated by Orlando attorney John Morgan, a big fundraiser in Democratic circles.
“Income inequality is the issue of our day,” Morgan tweeted recently.
Business groups across Florida opposed the amendment, saying it would put a strain on the state’s pandemic-stressed economy and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“Amendment 2 is bad for Florida and even worse for Floridians,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “In these difficult times, this costly amendment hurts the very local businesses trying to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.”
During early voting in the state capital, Maggie Charvonier, 42, a Mexican-born insurance agent and a registered Democrat who backs Biden, said that uncertainty over the economy was a key factor in voting. She supported the minimum wage change.
“I want that raised,” she said. “How do people survive?”
But Eric Thomas, 43, a small business owner and registered Republican who also backs Biden, said he was voting no on the measure.
“It’s a terrible idea,” Thomas said. “On the surface value, when you hear it, it sounds like a great idea, but when you look at the impact on the businesses and how much it hurts – I know a lot of people with businesses that would just be devastated.”
Florida voters also decided on five other amendments to the Florida Constitution:
— Amendment 1, which seeks to clarify that only U.S. citizens over age 18 are eligible to vote in elections, was approved.
— Amendment 3, which would have allowed all voters regardless of party affiliation to vote in primaries for state races with the two candidates getting the most votes advancing to the general election, didn’t get the 60% vote needed to pass.
— Amendment 4, which would have required amendments to the Florida Constitution to be approved in two elections instead of one, also failed to get the necessary 60% of the vote and didn’t pass.
— Amendment 5, which would give homeowners an extra year to claim a homestead tax benefit, passed.
— Amendment 6, which would extend a property tax discount to the surviving spouse of a veteran with combat-related disabilities, was approved overwhelmingly.
AP writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this report.