Spotlight Exclusives

Florida Minimum Wage Passage Could Spur Other Southern States

Sadaf Knight Sadaf Knight, posted on

Florida’s passage of Amendment 2 on Nov. 3, raising the state’s $8.56-an-hour minimum wage to $15 in increments by 2026 has been seen as a bellwether for potential passage of a minimum wage increase at the federal level. Seven other states have passed minimum wage increases, but Florida is the first southern state and the first state with a Republican governor and legislature to pass such a measure. In Florida, 51.2% of the electorate voted for President Trump and 61% approved Amendment 2. Spotlight spoke with Sadaf Knight, chief executive officer of the Florida Policy Institute, to better understand what happened in Florida and whether it has implications for other states as well as Congress. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The overwhelming support among Florida voters on Nov. 3 for raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 has attracted a great deal of attention given that the state also gave its electoral votes to President Trump by a sizeable margin. What drove the support for the ballot initiative?

I think it was a measure that really resonated with a lot of people. Florida is a state where many of the jobs that have been created over the past several years are low-wage jobs. Our economy has really been held up by industries like hospitality and tourism, things like that. We have a terrible affordable housing crisis, one of the worst in the nation, so people really are feeling the pinch when it comes to making ends meet, to affording a decent quality of life. I think the minimum wage initiative really spoke to a lot of the experiences of everyday Floridians who are just struggling to make ends meet. And I think COVID really did shine a light on how difficult it is for people to get by and how many people are really struggling. I think that really did set the stage for why we saw the passage of Amendment 2.

Walk us through how that amendment will work. It’s a gradual increase, correct?

Yes, it will increase gradually over the next several years and it will reach $15 in 2026.

And is there any possibility that the state legislature could come in and take action in the opposite direction? Is there any concern about that at this point?

There’s been some talk about it in the media, but nothing certain. We have seen this happen with other measures – what’s been in the news a lot has been Amendment 4 from 2018, which addressed restoring voting rights to returning citizens. We’ve seen a lot go on with that. But so far, it’s uncertain but we’re hopeful that this time we’ll be able to see the will of the voters implemented.

From a policy standpoint, what’s the 30,000-foot case for this particular amendment? We often hear the business community argue that this is going to force us to lay people off, this will make jobs less secure. What do you think resonated with voters to refute that argument?

I think one of the biggest arguments really is that, from a business standpoint, more money in the pockets of Floridians means more money that they can spend in the economy. So, we have a lot of people here who, as I mentioned earlier, they have jobs, but they are making low wages and they’re not able to afford their basic necessities. Having more money is going to enable them to actually go and spend more in the community. Many of the large businesses here, like Target or Disney, they have already begun adopting a $15 minimum wage. So, it is sustainable, it is feasible, as we’ve seen from some of the largest corporate interests here. And the gradual easing in of the increases is going to help to buffer some of that impact on local businesses. But by and large, from an economic standpoint, it really is that people in Florida are struggling to get by and the more money in their pockets, the more they’re going to spend it in their economy.

What do you think the lessons learned from this are for other states, particularly other southern states that might be looking to propose similar sorts of amendments? This is the first southern state to do this through a ballot initiative; does this raise the possibility that this could happen in other southern states, even though they may have Republican electoral majorities at the moment? Or is Florida unique?

Florida is certainly unique – we do have a unique economy and a unique tax structure as well. But as a southern state in this region, hopefully this can provide some precedent for other minimum wage efforts in other states. I think what’s important is just speaking to the lived experience of the people who are in these states, who are, similar to Florida, experiencing significant economic difficulties, particularly right now. I think the fact that Florida voters passed a minimum wage in the economic moment that we’re in right now makes a strong case that it can be done, even in other states. Hopefully this sets a good precedent for workers in other states too.

Are there any other initiatives of this type that are being talked about in Florida given the success of this one?

Not really. There’s always Medicaid expansion, which wasn’t on the ballot this election but which we might see in the next one. That wouldn’t be an economic development ballot initiative but would certainly have huge impacts for making living in Florida more affordable for a lot of people and giving them access to a lot of things they need for a quality of life, such as health coverage.

And that’s another case where we’ve seen a number of states that have Republican majorities that have also voted to expand Medicaid – where voters seem to be ignoring party labels when it comes to policies that have real impact on their lives.

I think it just really does speak to the fact that people experience these things on a day-to-day basis. It really does come home. Policies are not just things that are passed by the state legislature and then they go away – they really do impact people every single day. When it gets tied to what’s happening in your own household and your own family, I think people can see the benefit of policies like a minimum wage increase or Medicaid expansion, because it really is personal for many, many people.

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