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Majority of Ga. voters back raising minimum wage
But Deal says issue not on the agenda
Nathan Deal web

ATLANTA — Georgia Republicans are hostile to raising the minimum wage, but a majority of voters favor increasing it.
    An exit poll conducted Tuesday by The Associated Press suggest a significant slice of the electorate takes a more moderate stance on labor issues than the Republicans who set economic policy in Georgia. Federal law requires most employers in the state pay at least $7.25 per hour. A smaller number of firms only have to pay Georgia's minimum wage of $5.15.
    On Election Day, 57 percent of voters said they would favor raising the minimum wage, while 40 percent opposed it. The lead is statistically significant since the poll of 790 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
    "Georgians should be ashamed of themselves for paying such a low minimum wage," said state Sen. Donzella James of Atlanta, a Democrat who failed in attempts to increase it. No Republicans have supported Democratic proposals last year for a wage hike.
    "I don't think that's going to be something that is going to show up on our legislative agenda," Republican Gov. Nathan Deal told reporters Wednesday after beating Democrat Jason Carter.
    Deal's response makes political sense. The exit poll showed conservative voters who form the Republican Party's base and dominate its primary elections oppose raising the minimum wage. Powerful business lobbying interests like the Georgia Chamber of Commerce also oppose it. However, the moderates that Republicans need to win general elections tend favor raising the wage, creating a long-run problem for GOP leaders.
    President Barack Obama has proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, though it appears unlikely to happen with a Republican-controlled Congress. Voters in four states decided Tuesday to raise their own minimum wages. In Arkansas, it will rise from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017, in Nebraska from $7.25 to $9 and in South Dakota from $7.25 to $8.50. In Alaska, it will increase $2 an hour to $9.75 in 2016.
    In Georgia, a large majority of voters from households making less than $30,000 annually said they would support raising the wage level. The rate of support appeared to drop as household income rose.
    Predictably, the vast majority of voters who described themselves as liberals supported raising the minimum wage, while 64 percent of conservatives opposed it. However, seven out of 10 voters who considered themselves moderates would support a minimum wage increase, a swing demographic that made up roughly 40 percent of voters polled.
    Economists debate whether raising the minimum wage helps or hurts low-paid workers. If labor becomes more expensive, employers may hire fewer workers. In that scenario, a wage meant to help workers could price them out of jobs.
    Kelly McCutchen, president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said that if "we want to help people, let's not use a price control, knock off the bottom rung of the ladder."
    Other researchers struggle to find strong evidence of job losses when researching the impact of minimum-wage hikes in the past. The Congressional Budget Office analyzed the potential effects of a $10.10 minimum wage and predicted it could result in a loss of 500,000 jobs but increase total real income by $2 billion.

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