Minimum wage will go up to $8 an hour |

Minimum wage will go up to $8 an hour

Christina Almeida

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Flanked by Democratic lawmakers, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday signed a bill giving California one of the highest minimum wages in the nation, an election-year compromise that upset some conservatives and business groups.

The law gives more than 1.4 million people an increase of 75 cents an hour in January and another 50 cents the following year, boosting the rate from $6.75 an hour to $8.

Schwarzenegger and legislative Democrats have been at odds over the shape of a minimum wage increase in California for the past several years. Democrats sought annual automatic increases, which Schwarzenegger opposed.

The governor supported a straight $1-an-hour increase but compromised on the $1.25-an-hour boost with no annual adjustment.

“This is a great accomplishment in an election year, an election year when everyone usually tries to derail each other in Sacramento,” Schwarzenegger said during the bill-signing ceremony, which was held at a Hispanic market-place near downtown.

With the new law, California joins Massachusetts as having the nation’s highest minimum wage. Massachusetts also will boost its rate to $8 an hour by 2008 after lawmakers were able to override a veto this summer by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, was at Schwarzenegger’s side as he signed the bill and said the minimum wage hike “comes right out of the Democratic playbook.”

But he also praised the governor for striking a compromise.

“The governor said it right when he said we have to share the wealth,” Nunez said. “It means putting more food on the table. It means being able to afford to pay the rent.”

Nunez, a co-chairman of Schwarzenegger’s Democratic opponent in the November election, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, said he was not concerned that appearing with Schwarzenegger might send a mixed message to voters.

“Whether it helps him or whether it doesn’t help him, we get elected to the Legislature to fight for an agenda,” Nunez said. “We don’t get elected to the Legislature to put politics before a policy agenda.”

Angelides issued a statement criticizing Schwarzenegger for his vetoes of earlier minimum wage legislation that contained annual cost-of-living adjustments.

If elected in November, Angelides said he would sponsor legislation “to index the minimum wage to inflation so that the livelihoods of hard-working families are not held hostage to politics and they are not pushed into poverty by inflation.”

Some business groups had objected to the raise, saying it will hurt the economy and drive up costs. The California Chamber of Commerce opposed it but has credited Schwarzenegger for refusing to agree to automatic annual increases.

Martha Sanchez, head of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), said Schwarzenegger had no choice but to sign the minimum wage law. Schwarzenegger is a Republican in a state where the majority of voters are Democrat or independent, and is struggling to rebound from his disastrous special election last fall.

“For us, this is a victory,” Sanchez said. “Whatever (Schwarzenegger) does to keep his position is good for him, but this is good for us.”

Schwarzenegger defended the timing of his decision, saying California’s economy could not have handled a minimum wage increase a few years ago.

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