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Facing no organized opposition and OK'd for ballot, Arkansas wage hike faces easy path

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The Arkansas Supreme Court's decision to keep a minimum wage hike on the ballot removes the last major hurdle for a proposal that is gaining bipartisan support and faces no organized opposition as Election Day nears.

Voters will be asked to raise the state's minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017. Arkansas is one of a handful of states with a minimum wage lower than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

"We have always believed that if this got on the ballot that the people of Arkansas would vote for it," said Steve Copley, chairman of Give Arkansas a Raise Now, the group campaigning for the ballot measure.

Justices on Monday rejected a Little Rock businessman's bid to block votes for the measure from being counted. Jackson T. Stephens Jr. had questioned the validity of the petitions submitted for the proposal and the date used by the state for accepting the signatures. The court denied both claims unanimously.

The proposal was embraced early on by Democrats, who view it as helping to boost turnout in an election highlighted by a nationally watched race for Senate. Top Democratic candidates — including U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross — endorsed the measure earlier this year, and the state party adopted the increase as part of its platform.

Though the GOP hasn't taken a position on the measure, some of the party's top candidates eventually backed it. Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who is trying to unseat Pryor, and GOP gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson both said they planned to vote for the measure after it was certified for the November ballot.

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, which had opposed raising the federal minimum wage, hasn't taken a position on the Arkansas measure.

If approved by voters, the act would raise the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour in 2015, to $8 in 2016 and to $8.50 in 2017. The last time Arkansas raised its minimum wage was in a 2006 special session, and past attempts to do so have stalled before the Legislature. More than 130,000 Arkansans would see their wages rise if the minimum is raised to $8.50 an hour, according to Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.


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