Minimum wage hike takes effect today, but who’ll benefit most?

Do you feel richer today?

This morning marks the official start to a never-ending raise for those earning Nevada’s lowest legal wage.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you make more than the minimum wage. Despite numerous attempts to actually find someone still toiling away for $5.15 an hour, I’ve been unsuccessful.

Yet the popular union-backed initiative to raise that low bar — approved by voters in November — officially kicks in today after the lengthy five-year journey to include it in the Nevada Constitution.

But it’s just the beginning — not the end — because the new amendment calls for the lowest wage to be increased ad infinitum.

The way the AFL-CIO’s ballot measure read, the $1 increase in the minimum wage was earmarked for those working for employers who do not provide health care benefits.

But even the handful of folks who might indeed be making $5.15 an hour with benefits will still get a raise today.

That’s because the successful initiative also requires annual cost-of-living adjustments to the lowest wage. So, if you made $5.15 an hour yesterday, but somehow do have insurance coverage, you’re worth $5.30 an hour today.

If you’re unlucky enough to still be at the minimum wage and don’t have health coverage, you’re making a whopping $1.18 more an hour today than yesterday.

The reason for the big if is that no one can really quantify how many Nevadans officially earn the minimum wage. And once you take out tip earners and those younger than 18 (who were exempt from the measure) you’re talking about an infinitesimal pool of workers.

To sway voters, the unions highlighted single mothers to tell the horror of trying to feed the kids on $5.15 an hour. But none of those mothers was making the lowest wage anymore.

State Labor Commissioner Michael Tanchek said he has no clue how many people are getting a raise today thanks to last year’s successful ballot question.

“The way (the state) tracks wages, the lowest mark doesn’t line up with the minimum wage numbers,” he said.

In other words, the state lumps together all those earning anywhere from $5.15 an hour up into the $7 range.

Local economic projection firm Applied Analysis conducted a study for the restaurant industry, which opposed the minimum wage ballot measure. That report suggests Nevada has about 13,200 people earning $5.15 per hour or less.

Applied Analysis estimated that once you remove those who routinely receive payments above and beyond the $5.15 an hour (from tips or commissions) just 0.3 percent of the state’s work force earns the strict $5.15 minimum wage.

Like I said, I haven’t found anyone.

The union’s real agenda, though, wasn’t to ensure an increase from an unlivable $5.15 an hour to an unlivable $6.15. Their real hope was to force mid-range salaries to creep up.

Here’s how it will work immediately.

The constitutional amendment mandates that Nevada’s minimum wage must be tied to increases in the federal rate. So those who actually went from $5.15 to $5.33 an hour today will see another raise later this month — the federal minimum rate will increase to $5.85 on July 24.

So even if you’re an employer who provides health care and still pays the minimum, you’ll be paying more today and more again three weeks from now. If you don’t provide health care, you’re paying $6.33 an hour today. Because the federal rate increase is lower than that, you won’t have to provide another raise in three weeks.

But you will next summer, when the minimum wage goes up again to reflect a cost-of-living adjustment. The next federal increase will put the wage at $6.55 before hitting $7.25 in the summer of 2009.

A 3 percent cost-of-living increase on $7.25 is obviously going to be more substantial than one on $5.15.

Before long, the lowest wage earners will be creeping into fast-food territory of $8 to $11 an hour. Roughly 35 percent of the state’s work force earns a base wage of between $8.16 and $12.15 an hour.

You can see how an increasing minimum wage will affect the labor market — precisely what organized labor wanted to see to ensure union workers can successfully negotiate higher-paying contracts for themselves.

After all, there’s no sense in a skilled tradesman earning the same as someone who flips burgers.

So today marks the start of something big — not for the few workers who earned $5.15 yesterday, but for Nevada’s entire work force.

Crooked Kenny

Now if only voters had passed the Give Politicians a Bribe initiative instead, we could make better sense of all that money government witness Erin Kenny socked away.

It appears that her so-called vertigo-addled memory could actually wrap itself around $200,000.

That’s what the former county commissioner says she got from developer Don Davidson to push for a zone change that allowed a CVS drugstore to infiltrate a neighborhood.

And on Thursday, during testimony in Davidson’s federal bribery trial, she said she earns $200,000 a year from developer Jim Rhodes as apparent payback for carrying his water all those years she served on the commission. Her accountant says Rhodes also dumped hundreds of thousands into her failed 2002 bid for lieutenant governor.

The campaign reports alone show $200,000, and Kenny’s accountant claims she got even more that was never reported.

Then there was the $100,000 from Davidson for a Spring Valley casino vote.

Strip club boss Michael Galardi is to scheduled to head to prison later this week for essentially putting Kenny and three other former commissioners on his payroll. Estimates are the bribes amounted to $5,000 to $10,000 a month in cash.

Anyway, that’s the amount of money the dizzy blonde can remember — or the government can find.

When you add everything up, it just doesn’t seem right that Kenny only has to forfeit $70,000 as part of her plea bargain. Come on counsel, that’s not even minimum wage.

At least Kenny knew how to be on the take. If you’re going to risk everything, a la Herrera, you may as well get the biggest bang out of your dirty bucks.

Kenny didn’t just stop with the strip clubs, though. She took and took and took. Now it seems the government is about to be taken.

Kenny should be sentenced later this month. Anything less than the maximum five years would be a travesty.

Erin Neff’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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