RALEIGH — U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis on Wednesday said he opposes President Barack Obama’s plan to increase the federal minimum wage, calling it a “dangerous idea.”
The Republican went even further to suggest government shouldn’t set a minimum wage, labeling it an “artificial threshold.”
“I have serious concerns with the discussion around minimum wage because it drives up costs and it could harm jobs,” Tillis said after making his bid official at the State Board of Elections in Raleigh. “Obviously we want people to be paid a wage that could help make ends meet, but when you increase artificially the cost of labor to do a job, then often times those jobs will just go away.”
Obama has proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015. An estimated one in five North Carolina workers who make the current minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) would benefit , according to a report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. A Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate puts the state’s minimum wage workers closer to 6 percent.
Asked what he considered a living wage, Tillis dodged. He pivoted to say private industry ought to answer the question.
“I think for the most part the market needs to define that,” he answered. “When we create artificial thresholds then you run into a big problem. And I think we need to know that a segment of the population relies on minimum wage, but there are a lot of jobs that go beyond the minimum wage.”
But when asked whether he supported repealing the current minimum wage, Tillis stopped short. He said he would be concerned about whether it would destabilize the private market.
“I think you should consider anything that frees up the market to create more jobs,” he said. “But the reality is you can’t unring that bell.”
The House speaker’s stance on the issue puts him in line with his GOP rivals – which now number six – but puts him in a vulnerable position for the general election against Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan.
Hagan supports the president’s plan and intends to make the minimum wage hike a central issue in her re-election bid.
A recent survey from Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based Democratic firm, found 56 percent support for increasing the minimum wage to $10 a hour with 33 percent opposed.