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Organizers submit petitions for minimum wage vote

South Dakota Democrats and labor unions planned to deliver more than 25,000 signatures to state officials Monday in order to put a minimum wage increase on the 2014 ballot. (Daily Republic photo)

By Carson Walker

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — South Dakota Democrats and labor unions said they've gathered more than enough signatures to force a public vote on a minimum wage increase in the state.

Organizers of the petition drive said they're delivering 25,861 signatures to Pierre on Monday, the deadline to get the initiated measure on the November 2014 ballot.

Secretary of State Jason Gant said 15,855 signatures, or 5 percent of the total votes for governor in the last election, need to be valid.

The measure has three components: raise the minimum wage from the current federally set $7.25 to $8.50 an hour; increase the $2.13 hourly tip wage to half the minimum wage; and tie future increases to the cost of living "so we don't ever have to argue about it again," said Mark Anderson, president/financial secretary of SD-AFL-CIO.

"For far too long we've been worried about keeping the business climate friendly," he said. "I think it's time we keep South Dakota friendly for the workers."

The increase would represent about $50 additional per week for a full-time worker, and about 62,000 South Dakotans would get a raise if the measure passes, organizers said.

David Owen, president of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said the biggest concern for business is tying the minimum wage to the cost of living, since it locks in future cost increases for employers.

Most heads of household already make more than minimum wage, so the true impact on families would be minimal and would mainly hit small businesses in rural areas, since pay in cities of 5,000 or more is already higher, he said.

"There will be a negative impact on jobs in some areas," Owen said. "On the other hand, it does negligible help for anybody."

The chamber has always supported linking the state's minimum wage to the federal level, and the $7.25 to $8.50 jump would be the largest ever, he said.

"That's a big step all at once," Owen said.

Ryan Rolfs, state Democratic Party field director, said petition organizers saw a lot of interest from South Dakotans when gathering signatures.

"Folks are seeking us out to fill out the petition," he said.

Owen said it's not surprising enough signatures were gathered to put the issue on the ballot, since some people just want it to go to a public vote.

"I think a lot of people just want to get into the library or get their mail so they sign," Owen said.