People for and against Ballot Measure 3, which will increase Alaska’s minimum wage if passed, went head-to-head in a forum at Anchorage’s Loussac Library Wednesday night.

As Alaskans prepare to take their opinions to the polls during the Nov. 4 general election, a group gathered inside the Loussac’s Wilda Marston Theatre to hear about the initiative, which would increase the state's current minimum wage of $7.75 an hour by a dollar in each of the next two years, bringing it up to $9.75 an hour in 2016.

A group for Ballot Measure 3 says increasing the minimum wage will help low-income residents and reduce dependency on subsidized programs.

“For over 30 years after statehood, Alaska had the highest minimum wage in the country,” said Ed Flanagan, chair of Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage. “Right now, as of Sept. 1, we'll be 19th -- we're behind states like Florida and Arizona, where it's a heck of a lot cheaper to live, where wages are generally a lot lower.”

But some economists say raising the minimum wage will hurt job creation and lead to higher unemployment numbers.

“We had this idea that if we raised the minimum wage, that the stockholders or owners of these companies are going to have to dig deeper into their pockets to find this money, but that's often not the case,” said Kyle Hampton, director of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Center for Economic Education. “They move those positions or eliminate positions, or they replace those positions with different technologies and drive workers out of the market.”

Hampton says the state should add more subsidized programs.

“Subsidies are the answer -- whether it's the earned income tax credit or direct subsidies, these things increase employment,” Hampton said.
Flanagan, however, says taxpayers would bear the brunt of those costs.

“To do anything for these people remotely close to a two-dollar raise to minimum wage, you'd have to double that -- where's that $54 billion gonna come from?” Flanagan said. “Where's another $54 billion gonna come from, on top of all the subsidies we already provide to these employers?”

The minimum wage debate was the latest public event hosted by Alaska Common Ground, following a closely watched debate on Ballot Measure 1’s proposed repeal of oil tax reform measure Senate Bill 21.

Two more events will be held at the Loussac on Wednesdays at 7 p.m., with an Aug. 6 debate on Ballot Measure 2 to legalize marijuana and an Aug. 13 forum on the “Bristol Bay Forever” initiative which would limit mining in the region.