Minimum wage, paid leave questions proposed for 2018 ballot

View outside of Massachusetts State House.
Massachusetts State House –Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe

BOSTON (AP) — Proposed questions being offered for next year’s state ballot would gradually raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts to $15 an hour and require that workers have access to paid family and medical leave from their employers.

Raise Up Massachusetts planned to announce on Monday it was launching a signature drive for the two initiative petitions. The same group is behind a third ballot question that would impose a so-called “millionaire tax” on the state’s wealthiest earners, with the additional revenue earmarked for education and transportation improvements.

Groups hoping to place questions before voters in November 2018 must submit their proposals to the state attorney general by 5 p.m. Wednesday. It is the first of several deadlines that sponsors of initiative petitions face over the next 15 months.

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The Legislature in 2014 approved a three-step increase in the state’s hourly minimum wage from $8 to $11, the highest in the nation along with Washington state. The proposed 2018 ballot question would raise the Massachusetts minimum wage in annual $1 increments starting in 2019 until it reaches $15 an hour in 2022.

“Nobody should be paid so little they can’t afford basic necessities, and no one should have to choose between working at the job they need to pay the bills and caring for themselves or the family they love in a time of crisis,” said Deb Fastino, co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts, in a statement.

Under the paid leave proposal, workers could take time off to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or a new baby, for up to 16 weeks. During that period they would receive 90 percent of their average weekly wages, with a maximum benefit of $1,000. Workers recovering from their own injuries or illnesses could receive up to 26 weeks of paid medical leave.

The minimum wage and paid leave questions, should they reach the ballot, are likely to be met with strong opposition from some major business groups.

“The 4,000 member employers of Associated Industries of Massachusetts believe first and foremost that initiative petition is an inherently ineffective way to conduct public policy,” said Christopher Geehern, spokesman for the organization. “AIM opposes efforts to mandate a $15 per hour minimum wage and paid family leave. Both represent simplistic, one-size-fits-all approaches that will irreparably harm the economy without solving the income issues they are meant to address.”

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Attorney General Maura Healey must first certify that each proposal complies with constitutional guidelines for initiative petitions. If certified, sponsors must then collect a minimum of 64,750 signatures of registered voters by Nov. 22.

The proposal to impose a 4 percent surtax on the portion of an individual’s annual income that exceeds $1 million followed a different path to the 2018 ballot by garnering sufficient votes during two successive legislative sessions. The measure would raise $1.9 billion, Raise Up Massachusetts estimates.