LITTLE ROCK — A proposal to gradually raise Arkansas' minimum wage was approved for the November ballot on Wednesday, giving Democrats an issue they hope to use to turn out the vote in an election where they're trying to prevent a Republican sweep of statewide offices.
Secretary of State Mark Martin's office said Give Arkansas a Raise Now submitted at least 70,074 valid signatures from registered voters, more than the 62,507 needed to qualify the proposed initiated act for the ballot. The group's proposal calls for raising Arkansas' minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017.
The group submitted additional signatures last month after falling shy of the number needed. Martin's office said the group had submitted nearly 130,000 signatures total. Steve Copley, the chairman of the wage campaign, said he was confident the measure would pass.
"It's the right thing to do," Copley said. "People are working hard and playing by the rules, they're trying to live the American dream and they can't make their paycheck go far enough. It's that simple."
Arkansas is one of three states with a minimum wage lower than the federal level of $7.25 an hour, while five other states haven't established a minimum wage. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, a nonprofit advocacy group, has said more than 168,000 workers in the state would benefit from the proposal.
Democrats have been pushing the wage increase and touting it as a way to boost turnout in the November election. The party's top candidates, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross, have endorsed the proposal and tried to use it as an issue against their rivals. The party endorsed the minimum wage increase in its party platform earlier this summer.
State Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said he regularly mentions the wage increase in speeches and will continue to do so as the party nears the Nov. 4 election.
"It's not just bringing Democrats out. It's bringing everyone out," Insalaco said.
Pryor, who had opposed President Barack Obama's push to raise the federal level to $10.10 an hour by 2016, also regularly brings up the measure in campaign appearances.
"Here in Arkansas, we raise our kids to know the value of a hard day's work, and that's why it's time we give Arkansas families the pay raise they deserve," Pryor said in a statement released by his campaign
The proposal so far doesn't face an organized opposition campaign, though most Republican candidates have opposed the wage hike or are cool to the idea. The state GOP hasn't taken a position on the measure.
Pryor's rival, Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, has said he was studying the Arkansas proposal. Asa Hutchinson, the Republicans' nominee for governor, said he supports raising the state's minimum wage to at least the federal level but would prefer to see it done by the Legislature than through a ballot measure.
The proposal faces a potential legal hurdle. A group opposed to another measure approved for the November ballot that would legalize alcohol sales in all 75 Arkansas counties has threatened to challenge that proposal in court and is arguing that the state used the wrong deadline for accepting petitions. Such a challenge could also affect the wage proposal.