ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida voters on Tuesday were deciding whether to raise 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 — or 60% — is needed to approve the amendment to the Florida Constitution that would 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 say it is impossible to live on that wage given the state’s cost of living. Amendment 2 advocates said a family of four, with two full-time working adults earning the current minimum wage, earns just over half of what they need to live in Florida.
Opponents of Amendment 2 said it will stifle growth as Florida’s battered tourism economy recovers from the impact of the new coronavirus and could cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars as businesses that can’t afford the increase lay off workers.
Supporters of Amendment 2 want to 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 economy.
“Florida’s free-market conditions and skill set should be the driving factors that dictate wages, not government mandates,” the Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association said in a statement before the election. “Our contractors, manufacturers, suppliers, and consultants are hurting enough from the pandemic. Raising Florida’s minimum wage now and through our state’s constitution is not the time or the place for this type of change.”
The Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research estimated that government budgets would have to pay $16 million more in wages in 2022. By 2027, if the minimum wage were $15 an hour, governments would pay an additional $540 million annually, according to the researchers.
In a letter to members, the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce argued Florida’s minimum wage was never meant to be a living wage, only an entry-level wage. The chamber had warned that the costs would be passed on to consumers and jeopardize training-wage jobs.
“As we begin to emerge as a society from one of the worst financial downturns in our nation’s history, the last thing small businesses need is the undue burden of a constitutionally mandated wage increase,” said Matt Clark, chair of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce’s board.
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 supports 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 were deciding on five other amendments to the Florida Constitution:
— Amendment 1 seeks to clarify that only U.S. citizens over age 18 are eligible to vote in elections.
— Amendment 3 would allow 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.
— Amendment 4 would require amendments to the Florida Constitution to be approved in two elections instead of one.
— Amendment 5 would give homeowners an extra year to claim a homestead tax benefit.
— Amendment 6 would extend a property tax discount to the surviving spouse of a veteran with combat-related disabilities.
AP writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this report.