Nebraska taxpayers' group to campaign against ballot measure that would increase minimum wage

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — A taxpayer advocacy group announced plans Tuesday to campaign against a ballot measure to increase Nebraska's minimum wage, while some of the state's largest business groups remained undecided about their involvement.

The president of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom said his group will try to defeat the measure, which is expected to appear on the November ballot. Several Nebraska business groups that oppose an increase were still deciding whether they will actively campaign against it or help finance groups that do.

The measure would increase Nebraska's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour — the same as the federal minimum — to $9 an hour by 2016. Supporters need about 80,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot, and last week they submitted nearly 135,000 for verification. Backers of the measure argue that the buying power of Nebraska's minimum wage has fallen relative to the cost of goods and services.

The opposition campaign will include guest editorials in newspapers, a public speaking tour and social media to raise money and generate support, said Doug Kagan, president of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom. Kagan said the Omaha-based group will rely on local chapters in Columbus and O'Neill for support, but still needs to build a statewide network.

Kagan acknowledged that the campaign to defeat the measure faces an uphill battle. Minimum wage proposals submitted to voters in recent years have overwhelmingly won approval, even in conservative states.

"I think that in those other states where it passed, the anti-minimum wage campaigns haven't been that strong," Kagan said. "We're hoping to have a strong campaign so that we can explain the pitfalls of the minimum wage."

Voters in New Jersey approved an $8.25 an hour minimum wage last year, and in 2006 voters approved minimum wage increases in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio. In addition, state officials in California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island each raised minimum wages, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Kagan said a higher minimum wage would increase the cost of goods and services and make it harder to keep employees in industries where labor is a major cost. In addition, he said, Nebraska's relatively low unemployment has already created a state worker shortage that naturally pushes wages higher.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry has adopted a formal position that the state's minimum wage should mirror the federal minimum wage. But Barry Kennedy, the chamber's president, said his group doesn't have any immediate plans to fight the ballot proposal. Most of the group's member businesses already pay more than the minimum wage, Kennedy said.

"We haven't had any of our members express concerns," Kennedy said.

The Nebraska Restaurant Association opposes a higher minimum wage, but the group will wait until it knows for sure that the measure has qualified for the ballot.

"These signatures still have to be validated, county by county," said Jim Partington, the group's executive director.

Nebraska's minimum wage was last increased in 2009. Twenty-one states have minimum wages above the federal minimum.

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