SARASOTA (WWSB/AP) - John Morgan, founder of Morgan & Morgan and the attorney who led a successful effort in 2016 to legalize medical marijuana in Florida, is now taking on the $15 minimum wage.
In an announcement Tuesday in Orlando, Morgan said his ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage to $15 is heading to the State Supreme Court for review after receiving more than 120,000 signatures from Florida residents. If the State Supreme Court approves the language of the ballot initiative, Morgan will then need to gather more than 750,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot in 2020.
The measure would increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour starting in 2021 and then increase it by $1 every year until it reaches $15 per hour. The current minimum wage in Florida is $8.46 per hour
Morgan argues that raising the minimum wage is a conservative idea. “Right now, the government is subsidizing so many people with government aid, food stamps, vouchers, day care, that should be born by the business community. Taxpayers are actually paying these wages or supplementing these wages that should be paid by the business.”
And Morgan is putting his money where his mouth is. Morgan & Morgan is in cities across America and Morgan says he's going to bear the cost of millions of dollars each year to raise the wage for those starting at his law firm to $15 an hour.
"Our belief is that the single greatest issue facing America and Florida today is a living wage. That people are working harder and harder and getting further and further behind. That the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is sinking into the abyss. And that is where the desperation you see in America comes from."
Watch the full press conference below:
Additional reporting by the Associated Press finds the Florida Chamber of Commerce opposes the measure, saying small businesses would be hurt and that few Floridians are paid the minimum wage.
"Rather than adding another new mandates on local businesses, we should come together to ensure there's a universal path to prosperity through job training that creates $50,000 careers for the 1.7 percent of Floridians earning a minimum wage full time," spokeswoman Edie Ousley said.
Some of Florida's biggest and better-known employers have already raised their minimum wage. Walt Disney World's heavily unionized workforce last year approved a $15 minimum wage starting in 2021, while the non-union Universal Orlando Resort is raising its minimum pay to $12. Walmart now has an $11 minimum wage, Target will pay $15 starting next year and Amazon is at $15.
Florida voters have a history of increasing the minimum wage. A 2004 initiative passed by a 71 to 29 percent margin that set the minimum wage at $6.15 an hour and then increases it every January based on inflation, which is how it reached its current level. Under Florida law, initiatives must receive 60 percent approval to pass.
The District of Columbia has the highest minimum wage at $13.25, while California and Massachusetts are at $12. Those two states, D.C. and New York are scheduled to have $15 minimum wages — D.C. by next year, California by 2022, Massachusetts by 2023 and New York at an undetermined date based on inflation. Some cities such as Seattle have their own minimum wages that are higher than their state's.
The effect minimum wages have on unemployment rates is debated by liberal and conservative economists. Liberals believe reasonable minimum wages improve the economy and lower unemployment rates by putting more money into the hands of low-income people who will spend it. Conservatives say minimum wage hikes lead to higher unemployment as businesses employ fewer low-wage workers and turn to automation to do low-skill tasks, pointing to fast-foot restaurants and supermarkets that now use self-serve cashiers.
The real world results are mixed. Some states that follow the federal standard such as Iowa, New Hampshire and Idaho have among the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but Louisiana and Mississippi follow the federal standard and have high unemployment.
On the other side, states with higher minimum wages such as Vermont, Hawaii and Massachusetts have low unemployment rates, while California and New York are slightly above the national average. The District of Columbia’s unemployment rate of 5.5 percent is topped only by Alaska’s 6.3 percent — its minimum wage is $9.89 an hour.