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Hawaii lawmakers negotiate minimum wage increase

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- Hawaii lawmakers are negotiating a minimum wage increase aimed at helping residents grapple with the high cost of living in the islands.

Leaders in the Democrat-dominated state House and Senate have said they want to raise the wage. The proposal also has the backing of Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who made the increase a central part of his legislative agenda this year.

But lawmakers from each chamber have disagreed about how fast the wage should rise and whether it should be tied to the consumer price index.

A group of House and Senate negotiators met Wednesday to discuss the proposal. They decided to postpone voting until Thursday because they are still waiting for approval from the House and Senate money committees about funding for the bill.

Despite strong support from the Legislature and the executive branch, the initiative could still fail if key House and Senate lawmakers don't set aside funding or if the committee of negotiators can't agree on which version of the proposal to advance.

Lawmakers pushing the bill say that the high cost of rent in Hawaii, coupled with the price of food and other goods, means that people living on the state's $7.25-per-hour minimum wage are sometimes forced into homelessness. They want the wage to rise gradually to at least $9 per hour.

But Hawaii's business community has balked at the plan. The Chamber of Commerce and other business groups argue that it would force businesses to cut jobs, leading to higher unemployment.

The debate in Hawaii parallels a national debate as President Barack Obama seeks to raise the federal minimum wage. Obama has said that raising the wage would help decrease poverty and improve economic inequality.