Mass. Lawmakers Agree to Minimum Wage Compromise

BOSTON (AP) - A deal struck by House and Senate negotiators would hike the state's current $8-per-hour minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2017, but would not tie future increases to inflation.

The Senate was expected to vote later Thursday on the compromise hammered out by a six-member conference committee that had been trying to reconcile bills passed separately by the House and Senate.

The agreement calls for raising the minimum hourly wage for the state's lowest paid workers to $9 on Jan. 1, 2015, then to $10 the following year, and finally to $11 on Jan. 1, 2017.

The compromise worked out by Democratic leaders does not include a Senate proposal that would index subsequent increases to the U.S. Consumers Price Index.

The House version of the bill called for raising the minimum wage to $10.50 over three years, but without indexing it to inflation.

Both the House and Senate had originally sought to make the initial minimum wage increase effective on July 1, but some employers had expressed concern about implementing the change that quickly, so the compromise pushes the effective date back six months to Jan. 1.

"Too many people are trying to live and raise a family in Massachusetts on the current minimum wage and failing," said Senate President Therese Murray in a statement announcing the compromise, adding that it should serve only as the start of a conversation about assuring a "living wage" for all the state's residents.

The compromise also adopts the House proposal for raising the current $2.63 per hour minimum wage for tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, to $3.75 per hour over three years. The Senate version would have gone to $5.50 for tipped workers over three years.

State Rep. Brad Jones, the House Republican leader, said he was glad the bill did not include indexing the minimum wage to inflation, but said he could still not support the compromise.

"Overall getting to $11 in three years is too much, too fast and we ought to be more mindful about what is happening in competitive states," Jones said.

The group Raise Up Massachusetts has been gathering signatures to put a question on the November state ballot that would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour in two years, with automatic adjustments for inflation.

In a statement, the group said Thursday that the compromise was "a positive step," but said it would review the measure further and wait for final passage before deciding whether to withdraw its ballot question.

The bill also includes proposals aimed at reining in what business leaders say are the nation's highest unemployment insurance costs.

Unemployment insurance rates would remain frozen for three years under the bill and rating tables would be updated. The changes would not reduce unemployment benefits for laid off workers.

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