Senate approves hike in minimum wage to $9

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's minimum wage would increase to $9 an hour next year under legislation passed Wednesday by the Senate that also has the support of the House leadership and the governor.

The bill, approved 31-5, would increase the minimum wage by $1 beginning in January. The wage went up to $8, from $7.75, at the start of this year.

"This is not a living wage. Every little bit helps," said Sen. Erin Lynch, D-Warwick, the lead sponsor. "Raising this minimum wage is going to help our citizens and ultimately help our economy."

Sen. Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, opposed the increase, saying it hurts small businesses, which he called the backbone of the state's economy.

"Let's call it a tax increase, because that's what it is," he said.

He offered two amendments, including one to raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour; the other to provide for an annual increase linked to the consumer price index, capped at 25 cents a year. Both were defeated.

The measure boosting the wage to $9 has support on the other side of the Statehouse. Larry Berman, a spokesman for Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, said Wednesday the House intends to amend its version of the bill to match the Senate version.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a Democrat, said through a spokeswoman that he will sign the legislation if it gets to his desk.

"A fair minimum wage makes economic and moral sense, and is an essential ingredient for developing a desirable economic climate" and helping the middle class, said spokeswoman Faye Zuckerman.

The minimum wage may become a debate issue Thursday when the House considers the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The budget plan includes a provision that would prevent municipalities from setting their own minimum wage standards. It's a reaction to a pending ordinance in Providence to boost the wage to $15 an hour for hotel workers.

Some union and municipal leaders say pre-empting municipal authority sets a dangerous precedent.

Mattiello supports a uniform wage across the state. He thinks having different rates would pit municipalities against each other and adversely impact the business community overall, Berman said.

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