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SD Dems push for higher minimum wage

South Dakota Democrats and labor partners are seeking an initiated measure to raise the state's minimum wage to $8.50 per hour, with annual cost of living increases.

"South Dakotans know our economy is stronger when we reward honest work with honest wages," said state Democratic Party interim Executive Director Zach Crago in a Wednesday news release.

The state's current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal minimum wage.

State Democrats filed language this week with the state Attorney General's Office that will place the proposal as an initiated measure on the 2014 General Election ballot if enough signatures are gathered by Nov. 4. At least 15,855 valid signatures are needed.

"Our local businesses grow from customers with more money in their pockets to spend on things they need," Crago said. "Working South Dakotans with honest wages depend less on government assistance. In short, raising South Dakota's minimum wage is a step toward building an economy that works for everyone."

David Owen, president of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it's likely his organization will review the proposal, but traditionally the state chamber has advocated that the state's minimum wage be kept close to the federal minimum wage, he said.

"History has shown increasing the wage does impact businesses in terms of job creation," Owen said.

"It may not wipe out the business community, but it will certainly make it more difficult for entry level workers seeking employment in small towns who don't have a robust economy."

"My guess is that most businesses in larger cities are already paying above minimum wage in order to get qualified help," Owen said, noting that studies show that very few heads of households are working for minimum wage and those who enter at that wage level typically don't remain there long.

If the initiative does make it to the ballot, the issue should see some healthy debate during the 2014 South Dakota legislative session, Owen predicted.

South Dakota AFL-CIO President Mark Anderson said South Dakotans believe in hard work, but the minimum wage hasn't kept up with the rising costs of housing, food and gas. "When CEO pay has never been higher, raising the minimum wage promotes fairness for working families who want a shot at the middle class."

Teamsters Local 120 representative Brad Jenkins said his organization wants South Dakota to be a land of opportunity for all working families.

"Raising South Dakota's minimum wage is about working people standing with working people. Everyone wins when hard-working people have a little more money to spend at local businesses that create jobs for our growing economy," he said in the news release.

Petition circulation will begin after Attorney General Marty Jackley writes the attorney general's explanation.