Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke on Sunday endorsed raising Wisconsin’s minimum wage, eventually, to $10.10 an hour.
The stance, staked out during a Sunday morning talk show, put Burke directly at odds with her opponent, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has said raising the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage would “put a buzz saw on the economic recovery.”
Late last month, Walker voiced strong opposition to companion bills introduced by Assembly and Senate Democrats that would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The governor called the proposal “political grandstanding.”
The bills are in committee in both chambers, which are controlled by Republicans. Opponents argue that raising the minimum wage would result in job losses.
Burke had earlier said she favored a much smaller increase of about 35 cents an hour. But Sunday morning on the “Upfront with Mike Gousha” program, the Madison School Board member endorsed the full increase of three 95-cent raises proposed by Democrats.
That proposal calls for an immediate increase to $8.20, reaching $10.10 two years later and indexed to inflation thereafter. Democrats say 600,000 low-wage workers would see an immediate raise.
The last time Wisconsin boosted the minimum wage was four years ago, from $6.50 an hour.
Keeping the wage at $7.25 an hour “is basically ensuring that people have to be dependent on government programs,” Burke said. “I think increasing the minimum wage leads to people being able to support themselves and their families, and we can do it in a way that’s not going to hurt job creation.”
The former state Commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle executive said she reached her decision after meeting with business owners around Wisconsin and reviewing job data from states that have raised their minimum wages above the federal minimum, which is currently the same as Wisconsin’s, $7.25 an hour. Burke said those states have not suffered higher unemployment rates.
She added that stagnant wages are harming the middle class and fueling the current divide between the rich and poor.
“Wages are at their lowest percentage of (gross national product) than they have been since before the Great Depression,” Burke said. “Wages have not kept pace with inflation, and we do have a weakening of the middle class. And this is not good for our economy. The way we have a strong economy in Wisconsin and in the United States is to have a strong, growing middle class.”
Congressional Democrats are pushing for a similar increase in the federal minimum wage.
Last week’s Marquette Law School poll showed 62 percent of Wisconsin residents favored increasing the minimum wage, while 35 percent opposed it.
“Mary Burke is the product of polling and focus groups, so we shouldn’t be surprised that she again changed positions after looking at numbers and feeling pressure from her left wing base,” Republican Party of Wisconsin executive director Joe Fadness said in a statement.
— The Associated Press
contributed to this report.