OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A coalition of Nebraska advocacy groups and state senators announced a new ballot drive Monday to raise Nebraska’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from the current $9 an hour that voters approved through a similar ballot initiative in 2014.
Raise the Wage Nebraska said the move would benefit communities across the state. If enough signatures are gathered, the issue would appear on the 2022 general election ballot.
The announcement comes after a proposal in the Legislature to set the wage at $20 an hour by 2032 stalled this year.
“Poverty is at the root of many of the issues we are trying to tackle in our state,” state Sen. Terrell McKinney, a co-sponsor of the ballot campaign, said in a statement. “One way to begin decreasing poverty is to raise the minimum wage and change the cycle of surviving the good life to living the good life.”
The measure is likely to face opposition from business groups, although none actively campaigned against the effort that increased Nebraska’s minimum wage to $9 in 2016. Before the phased-in 2014 ballot measure went into effect, Nebraska’s rate matched the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
If the $15 minimum wage passes, Nebraska would have the highest minimum wage among its neighboring states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Colorado’s minimum wage is $12.50 an hour, Missouri’s is $10.30, and South Dakota’s is $9.35. Iowa’s and Kansas’ rates match the federal minimum wage of $7.25, while Wyoming’s minimum is $5.15, although employers still have to pay the federal minimum.
An official with one of the groups involved in the campaign said Nebraska’s current minimum wage is “failing too many of our friends and neighbors who are in a constant struggle to make ends meet.”
“As a state that takes pride in shared prosperity and caring for our neighbors, we have a responsibility to ensure that every Nebraskan is paid a fair wage,” said Ken Smith, economic justice director for Nebraska Appleseed.
Raise the Wage Nebraska said its proposal would phase in the increase over several years. The campaign said Nebraska consistently ranks among states with the highest number of people working multiple jobs, and argued that the measure would help achieve racial and gender pay equity.
The campaign coalition includes McKinney and state Sen. Megan Hunt, of Omaha, as well as 17 largely progressive advocacy groups.
Twenty-five other states increased their minimum wage on Jan. 1, according to the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute. The current highest rate is $15.20 an hour, in the District of Columbia, although some states have adopted annual indexing that increases their rates automatically each year.