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OUR VIEW: Annual increase provision could doom minimum wage ballot issue

Monday was a day of celebration for the South Dakota Democratic Party. Its leaders, along with union representatives, gathered enough signatures to place a proposed minimum-wage increase on next November’s general election ballot.

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Having a traditionally Democratic concern on the ballot could help the party turn out more Democratic voters, which it will need to make up any ground in the Legislature, oust Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, win the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., or topple U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

In that way, just having the issue on the ballot is a win for Democrats. Sadly, though, it appears that in their rush to put the issue to voters, they assembled a poorly thought-out proposal.

The measure would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour and also raise the hourly tip wage to half the minimum wage. Another aspect of the proposal would automatically increase the minimum wage in accordance with annual future increases in the cost of living, as measured by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index. That’s also known as the rate of inflation and is around 3 percent in many typical years.

We’re agreeable to discussing a raise in the minimum wage. We’re not sure $8.50 is the right number and tend to think it’s a large jump from $7.25, a rate that was set only four years ago, but we’d perhaps be comfortable if we knew the minimum was going to stay at that number for at least a few years until being reconsidered.

Where we sharply disagree with those backing the ballot issue — and where we predict their campaign will fall apart — is on the issue of automatic, annual increases.

We can’t possibly know what economic conditions this state might face in future years. Why would we tie our collective hands with a wage law that would be unbending even in the face of urgent circumstances?

A decision next year to adjust the minimum wage should be based on economic conditions at the time of the decision, not unknowable conditions in 2015, 2020 and beyond. By adding such an unwise element to their proposal, we think Democrats have bitten off more than voters will want to chew.