MADISON — Democrat Mary Burke and her supporters hope that Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s opposition to the minimum wage will help swing the governor’s race in her favor, with polls showing them tied less than three weeks before Election Day.
Burke supports increasing Wisconsin’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Walker not only opposes increasing the minimum wage; he said this week that he doesn’t think setting a minimum salary serves a purpose. He also said he doesn’t want to repeal it.
Instead, Walker said he is focused on creating jobs that pay two or three times the minimum wage.
But Walker’s views are in the minority, based on the latest Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday. It shows 61 percent of likely voters want to increase the minimum wage, while 35 percent are opposed. Respondents weren’t asked what they thought about scrapping it altogether.
That poll showed the governor’s race is tied, with 47 percent for both Walker and Burke. A scant 4 percent of voters were undecided, with the Nov. 4 election fast approaching.
In a race full of stark differences between the candidates over issues ranging from abortion to collective bargaining, their positions on the minimum wage are getting renewed attention. Democrats believe the issue can be exploited and spur otherwise unmotivated independents to vote in the midterm election.
In an Oct. 10 debate, the candidates were asked about the minimum wage and Walker reiterated his opposition, saying he wanted jobs that paid far more than that. But he also wasn’t clear on whether he supported any minimum wage at all. When asked again about the issue Tuesday during a meeting with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s editorial board, Walker said he didn’t want to repeal the state’s minimum wage.
“But I don’t think it serves a purpose because we’re debating then about what the lowest levels are at,” Walker said. “I want people to make, like I said the other night, two or three times that.”
Burke tried to capitalize on the differences, saying she disagrees entirely with Walker’s view.
“I approach it as what I just think is the right thing to do in terms of growing our economy, in terms of fiscal responsibility, and in terms of helping people’s lives,” Burke told The AP on Thursday. “Increasing the minimum wage does all three.”
Liberal and progressive groups advocating for a minimum wage increase also pounced on Walker’s comments and the latest Marquette poll results, sensing an opening for Burke and vulnerability for Walker. In the previous poll, released Oct. 1, Walker had a 5-point lead.
“The past week has been dominated by Walker’s views on the minimum wage, and voters have reacted strongly,” said Jon Green, deputy director of Working Families, a group pushing for a minimum wage hike.
Walker’s administration last week rejected a complaint by the labor group Wisconsin Jobs Now, which tried to force an increase in the minimum wage by pointing to a state law that says Wisconsin’s minimum wage “shall not be less than a living wage.”
Walker’s Department of Workforce Development said in denying the complaint that “there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.”