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Lawmakers renew push to raise minimum wage 9/17/2015

It's sort of a predictable sequence of events: Democrats call for minimum wage hike, Republican committee chairmen don't hear it.

The philosophical difference in whether Florida's $8.05 minimum wage is high enough -- or should even exist -- is playing out again. On Thursday, Democratic lawmakers made a public push for bills in the next legislative session (SB 6, HB 105) filed by Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, to increase it to $15 per hour, joined by union representatives and minimum wage earners.

"No matter how you slice it and dice it, when you pay someone a wage that you cannot live on -- and I say this as an African American -- that's akin to slavery," said Bullard. "You've locked them in a cycle of poverty that they cannot get out of."

The problem, advocates of raising the minimum wage say, is that many people earn less than the cost of living. According to data maintained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the average cost of living for one adult and one child in the state of Florida is $23.01 per hour for a full-time, 40-hour work week. In Tampa Bay, it's $22.71, and in South Florida, it's $24.34. That assumes minimum costs for housing, food, transportation and health care (and there's a whole lot of documentation here).


In recent years, conversations about raising the minimum wage have gotten louder as income and wealth inequality have come more and more into the spotlight of the national political debate. Other states have raised their minimum wages to more than $10 per hour. And a recent study by Integrity Florida found that increasing the minimum wage won't cost the state jobs.

Workers who joined Bullard and Torres in the 4th floor Rotunda in the state Capitol on Thursday shared their stories and explained how difficult it is to live on $8.50 per hour. They were backed up by groups like Fight for 15, as well as labor unions including the SEIU and AFSCME.

"We can't afford groceries from Save-A-Lot. We can't afford to get a bus ticket to and from work," said Bleu Rainer, a 24-year-old fast food worker from Tampa. "That ain't right."

This month, to draw attention to the issue, Bullard, Torres and other lawmakers are going to take the Minimum Wage Challenge, which is to say that for one week, they'll live on the equivalent of $8.05 per hour. 

If history is any indication, these bills won't have much life in the Florida Legislature. But Bullard and Torres hope taking the challenge will attract the attention of their fellow lawmakers, Bullard said. So too can support from business, which is growing as companies like Walmart and Starbucks increase pay or fund other benefits for low-wage workers.

"As much as my colleagues like to talk about the private sector doing their part, they've done it," said Bullard. "They've started to stand up. But it's time for the Legislature to do the same."