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Alaska minimum wage hike plan gets go-ahead

Mark Thiessen, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- The organizers of a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Alaska have been given the go-ahead to begin collecting signature, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said Monday.

Treadwell certified the initiative and informed the chief sponsor, former state Labor Commissioner Ed Flanagan. Other sponsors are Tom Cashen and Jim Sampson, also two former labor commissioners.

Organizers will have one year to gather the more 31,169 signatures required to qualify the measure for the ballot.

The initiative would increase Alaska's minimum wage to $8.75 as of Jan. 1, 2015, then $9.75 as of Jan. 1, 2016. After that, it will be adjusted for inflation but always be $1 higher than the federal minimum wage.

The proposed initiative includes language stating that Alaskans working full-time at the current minimum wage "earn far below the federal poverty level for a family of three." It also notes that California, Oregon and Washington — other West Coast states — have higher minimum wages than Alaska.

In 2002, the Legislature pre-empted a proposed initiative by passing a measure to raise the minimum wage and allow it to be adjusted for inflation. The measure also said the minimum wage should be either the most recent wage adjusted for inflation or $1 more than the federal minimum wage, whichever was greater. The Legislature can pre-empt initiatives that qualify for the ballot by passing substantially similar legislation.

A year after passing the bill, however, lawmakers stripped the inflation adjustment requirement and reference to the minimum wage being $1 higher than the federal level.

In 2009, the Legislature passed a measure stating that, beginning in 2010, the minimum wage had to be at least 50 cents more than the federal minimum wage. That's where it stands currently, at $7.75 an hour.