Watching the Legislature in action is rarely an uplifting experience, but Tuesday afternoon’s Senate consideration of a constitutional amendment to allow voters to decide on a modest minimum wage increase was particularly depressing.
Not because state Sen. Troy Carter’s bill to let Louisianans institute a $9-per-hour base wage went down. Getting lawmakers to give it the two-thirds approval necessary in each house was always an uphill climb, in part because many Republican lawmakers don't want to give Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards an election-year win.
It was because the many who opposed the measure couldn’t be bothered to essentially look their constituents in the eye and make an argument as to why they were bucking public sentiment and leaving the most vulnerable in the lurch.
All signs pointed to a likely win at the ballot box had voters had the chance to speak. A recent LSU poll found that 81 percent of people interviewed backed a minimum wage of $8.50 an hour from the long-stalled federal level of $7.25, with Republicans in support by a wide margin. Fifty-nine percent of the survey’s respondents even said they’d back a $15 minimum wage, which is way more than Carter, a New Orleans Democrat, was seeking. The experience of other states is also instructive; pretty much everywhere minimum wage increases have appeared on the ballot, they’ve passed. And that includes in conservative states where the proposed wage hikes were steeper.
As to who such a proposal would help, the Louisiana Budget Project, which advocated for the measure, offered these numbers: 112,700 workers would get a slight raise, a population that includes a disproportionate share of women and people of color.
A number of Democratic senators went to the mic to tell some of their stories Tuesday, including state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, who described having to contact the mother of some children in a non-profit program late at night because the woman was working three jobs to support her family.
But nobody stood up to make an argument against the bill. Opponents instead let Carter know that he would fall far short of a win if he called the vote. Carter then did what politicians sometimes do in these circumstances; he tabled the measure so that nobody would have to go on record.
Well, why not demand a vote and make them own their positions? The people proponents described labor long and hard, with little reward, to take care of their business. The least the senators deciding their fate could have done is to take the same level of personal responsibility for how they handle theirs.