With minimum wage increase set to become law in Massachusetts, group withdraws ballot question

A group that supports a higher state minimum wage has ended its bid for a November ballot question, saying Monday it was no longer necessary now that lawmakers had approved a bill that would give Massachusetts the highest minimum wage among states by 2017.

Raise Up Massachusetts announced it was withdrawing its initiative petition after collecting more than 350,000 signatures over the past two years.

The Legislature gave final approval last week to a bill raising the state's current $8 per hour minimum wage to $11 per hour in three annual increments beginning Jan. 1, 2015, while also offering a raise to workers who receive tips, such as restaurant servers. Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to sign the measure within days.

"Increasing the minimum wage by 38 percent, as well as giving tipped workers a raise from $2.63 to $3.75 an hour plus tips, will help struggling families who deserve to be able to make a living in Massachusetts," Lew Finfer, co-chairman of Raise Up Massachusetts, said in a statement.

The proposed ballot question sought to increase the minimum wage to $10.50 within two years, and differed in another key aspect from the bill passed by lawmakers. The group wanted automatic adjustments in the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation, but the indexing provision was dropped from a final compromise reached by House and Senate negotiators.

Still, the organization noted the bill would help more than 600,000 minimum wage workers in Massachusetts.

Legislators in several other states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont, have approved state minimum wage increases in recent months, but no U.S. state currently has plans to go as high as $11 per hour.

President Barack Obama has called for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

Some legislators in Massachusetts credited the ballot petition with spurring action at the Statehouse.

"The grassroots organizing carried out by Raise Up Massachusetts changed the conversation on raising the minimum wage," said state Rep. Tom Conroy, D-Wayland, the lead House negotiator on the bill.

Critics of the measure said it pushes the minimum wage up too high and too quickly and will hurt many small businesses in the state.

Raise Up Massachusetts said it remained committed to a separate proposed ballot question that seeks to guarantee earned sick time for all workers.