N.H. Senate rejects raising min. wage to $15/hr.

Feb. 24—CONCORD — New Hampshire will remain with a minimum wage $5-an-hour lower than any other New England state after the N.H. Senate rejected a three-step move Thursday to nearly double it.

New Hampshire hasn't raised its minimum wage since 2009 and for the last decade it's been one of 15 states that defaults to the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy of Manchester has authored legislation every year for the past decade to raise the wage.

Her 2022 proposal (SB 203) would have raised the wage to $10 an hour this Sept. 1, to $12 an hour on July 1, 2023 and to $15 hourly on July 1, 2024.

"This feels like Groundhog Day all over again," Soucy said.

"I have been debating this bill for a number of years and I won't stop until we get a change."

The Senate gave Soucy's bill a mercy killing Thursday, voting along partisan lines, 13-10, to send it to interim study.

The parliamentary move means the issue will have to start all over again as a new bill before the next Legislature in 2023.

All Republicans present favored shoving the bill aside while all Democrats opposed that motion.

Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, was absent.

Last Jan. 1, 21 states raised their minimum wages and the lowest one other than here in New England is the $12.25 minimum wage in Rhode Island.

The other minimum wage rates in the region are $14.25 in Massachusetts, $12.55 in Vermont, $12.75 in Maine and, as of this July 1, $14 an hour in Connecticut.

Soucy maintained the need for this change became more acute when COVID-19 made all workers reevaluate where they want to live and work.

Having a lower minimum wage only makes it more difficult for companies to competitively recruit to get more employees to locate here as the state faces a chronic workforce shortage, Soucy said.

"It is well past time we acknowledge the needs of our constituents and do what is right by them," Soucy said.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said most companies have been raising wages to keep or attract workers, but raising the minimum would make employers consider making more use of automation.

"Increasing the minimum wage is well intended but the actual real world consequences is that it creates winners ... and losers, those people who don't get in particular that first-time job that is critical to their development in the workforce," Bradley said.

Sen. Bill Gannon, R-Sandown, called it a "training wage" that allowed his children and thousands of other young employees to get their first entry jobs which have led to better-paying ones.

About 1% of NH workers make minimum wage

According to the state Bureau of Labor Market Information, 11,000 employees or 1% of the state's workforce receive the minimum wage.

Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, pointed out that 144,000 employees or 21% make less than the $15 wage that's the future wage in Soucy's bill.

Someone working 40 hours a week at $7.25 an hour earns $15,080 a year, which is below the federal poverty level and makes them eligible for government aid like Medicaid and food stamps, Soucy said.

Studies show up to two-thirds of people getting government assistance have someone in the family who is working, she said.

"This will directly reduce government spending on government assistance," Soucy said.

"This is a fiscally responsible thing to do and it represents a cost savings to taxpayers."

When Democrats controlled the Legislature in 2019-20, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed two bills to raise the minimum and the Legislature sustained both those vetoes.

klandrigan@unionleader.com