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Republican lawmakers are proposing a minimum wage of $15 an hour to head off potential problems in the election

Democratic lawmakers in the Ohio Legislature have been trying to raise the minimum wage for years, but their bills failed in the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Now, as supporters of an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour starting in 2026 are gathering signatures to put the measure before voters in the fall, a Republican senator has introduced a bill that he says will achieve that goal in a better way.

Sen. Bill Blessing (R-Colerain Twp.) said his bill would increase the wage for non-tipped workers to $15 over four years starting in 2028. Tipped workers would receive $7.50 an hour.

Ohio currently has a non-refundable tax credit for lower-income workers, but Blessing said his plan would create a refundable earned income tax credit that would even allow lower-income workers to get a tax refund in some cases.

“The two ideas – the minimum wage increase and the EITC – work better together than either alone,” Blessing said.

Supporters of the planned referendum react

But supporters of the change say workers don't have to wait four years to feel the effects of the wage increase.

Michael Shields, an economist at Policy Matters Ohio, points out that under the proposed change, workers would receive the full $15 hourly wage in two years. Additionally, Shields said it is a constitutional amendment, so lawmakers cannot change it or repeal it entirely, which he said has happened in other states.

And Shields said that by not giving all workers $15 an hour, “people are left out.”

But Blessing said the concern is for tipped workers, who now earn more than $15 an hour.

“What it boils down to is that a lot of these people who were doing much better than the non-tipped wage were afraid of going back down to the $15 an hour level because people had chosen to stop tipping Blessing said.

Why now?

There is another Democratic bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But Republicans were reluctant to embrace the idea. Shields points out that Blessing's bill was introduced while the coalition supporting the amendment is collecting signatures for the fall vote.

“I find it remarkable that Senator Blessing introduced this after many Ohioans signed a petition saying we want to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour,” Shields said. “I am encouraged that we are seeing greater agreement across the political spectrum that this is necessary. I think the voters have been there for a long time.”

Since the 1990s, no state has lost minimum wage proposals submitted to voters.

Anna Harden

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