Some Good News From Tuesday
While many eyes around Washington were on the federal congressional races yesterday and on which party would end up with control of the Senate, there were also important state-level ballot measure campaigns happening all across the country. In a time when Congress is seen as inactive and partisan gridlock prevents much from getting done on Capitol Hill (and in some state capitals), voters across the country took matters into their own hands to make changes that lawmakers haven’t been able to. Several of these ballot initiatives bring good news to vulnerable populations in these states.
While the federal minimum wage stays stuck at $7.25 per hour, voters in four more states – Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota – voted to raise their state’s minimum wage on Tuesday. The measure in Alaska calls for an increase to $8.75 in 2015 and to $9.75 in 2016, with ongoing adjustments after that. It also mandates that the state minimum wage always be at least $1 higher than the federal minimum wage. The passage of the measure in Nebraska was particularly exciting for advocates, as Nebraska has never had a minimum wage higher than the federal level. In South Dakota, voters approved an increase to $8.50 per hour beginning January 1, as well as a raise for tipped workers, whose pay will be set at half that of the regular minimum wage.
Voters in Illinois approved an “advisory question” on the ballot supporting increasing the minimum wage to $10 by the start of 2015. While not binding, the question served to both entice supporters to the polls and provide fodder for future action by the state legislature. San Francisco, the city with the highest minimum wage in the country, will raise its wage to $12.25 per hour in May 2015 and will continue to go up to $15 per hour in July 2018 after voters there approved Proposition J. Across the bay, Oakland voters approved a raise in their city’s minimum wage to $12.25 per hour in March.
While only half of workers in the U.S. report being able to take some type of paid leave when they are sick, voters in Massachusetts approved a measure to ensure employees could earn and use paid sick time to care for themselves or their family, or for domestic violence related needs.
In California, voters approved a measure to reduce the classification of most “non-serious, nonviolent” crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor. Supporters say the move “reduces the barriers that many with felony convictions for low-level nonviolent crimes face to becoming stable and productive citizens, such as employment, housing and access to assistance programs and professional trades.” It will redirect hundreds of millions of dollars from prison spending to K-12 school programs, victim services, and mental health and drug treatment.
Voters in Illinois supported another non-binding idea to increase the tax on incomes greater than $1 million by 3 percent to give more money to school districts.
There were some disappointments in ballot question results. Oregon voters rejected a bill passed by the state legislature in 2013 to give driver licenses for those who don’t have proof of legal presence in the U.S. Missouri voters rejected a measure to establish early voting for the 2016 elections.
But the voters opposed other measures that would make it harder to register or vote. In Montana, voters rejected a measure to do away with Election Day registration. Voters in Illinois agreed with another advisory question that’s meant to discourage voter ID laws.
While no one is yet certain what the election results will mean for the next two years or the future beyond that, one thing we do know is that large majorities voted for raising the minimum wage and other policies that address problems faced by working people struggling to get by. The strong support for many of these ballot questions provides a clear picture of what voters want. The new Congress should understand that strong mandate, and work to support it. And it’s our job to hold them accountable if they don’t.
Where The Public Stands
Chart source: Zachary Goldfarb/Washington Post