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President Obama announced last week that he will soon sign an executive order to hike the minimum wage for people working under new federal contracts. / Jewel Samad, AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON - President Obama faces a difficult path in his push to raise the federal minimum wage, but workers and lawmakers have gained momentum on the state level on the issue that will remain front-and-center throughout much of the country in 2014.

More than 30 states are set to consider legislation or ballot measures to hike the minimum wage in the coming months.

Already, 22 bills have been introduced in 14 states and the District of Columbia on minimum wage increases and related issues in the first weeks of the 2014 legislative sessions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"Momentum has gathered," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who is backing raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour from $8.25 in his state, told USA TODAY. "Given the nature of the House of Representatives in Washington, the states are going to have to lead the way."

The latest effort follows five states and Washington, D.C., approving increases in their minimum wage laws last year.

Proponents of a minimum wage hike are increasingly staking out territory on the issue that the White House and many Democrats believe resonates with voters. To that end, Organizing for Action, a national advocacy group that promotes Obama's agenda, announced Monday it was a launching a six-figure national television ad buy highlighting Obama's call to raise the minimum wage.

Obama announced last week that he will soon sign an executive order to hike the minimum wage for people working under new federal contracts - a move that could eventually affect a few hundred thousand workers. But it will take congressional action - and a measure of Republican support - to raise the federal rate to $10.10 by 2016 as Obama and fellow Democrats are advocating.

It seems unlikely that Democrats - who weren't able to win Republican support for an effort to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 last year - will have any better luck getting to 60 votes with this effort.

Republicans have already signaled their opposition to the latest push, raising concerns that a higher minimum wage would force business owners to cut workers' hours, slash jobs and raise prices. GOP lawmakers - including potential 2016 presidential candidates Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida - have argued that raising the minimum wage could harm more than help America's poorest.

"As part of our concern about creating jobs, the last thing we want to do is pass a measure to destroy jobs," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

Yet the push for a higher minimum wage rate is starting to gain traction. Some states have benefited from Obama elevating attention on the issue, says Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute, a Washington group opposed to raising the minimum wage,

Saltsman suggested that "blue" states, including Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota, are where backers of raising the minimum wage have their best chance.

"I think those are the five where you are going to see the most intense fight," he said. "Those are the states where you are basically looking for the number (wage rate) that Democrats can agree on."

In Hawaii, there's a push in the legislature to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. The new push follows a failed effort last year to raise the state's rate to $8.75 per hour by 2016. The minimum wage in Hawaii currently stands at $7.25 per hour.

Drew Astolfi, an organizer for an interfaith coalition pushing for a higher minimum wage, said that initially proponents had set their goal at $9.50 per hour, but bumped up their call to $10.10 to line up with the federal rate Obama is backing. Meanwhile, Hawaii's Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie in his State of the State address called for raising the state's minimum wage to $8.75 by January 2015.

"Not much is going to happen in Congress, so I think you got to turn back to the states to get anything done," Astolfi said..

In Massachusetts, the state Senate has already passed legislation that would raise the rate from $8 to $11 by 2016, but the House hasn't taken up the measure.

Voters could end up deciding the issue themselves. Massachusetts activists gathered 150,000 signatures to get a question on the November ballot to gradually raise the state's minimum wage to $10.50 by 2016.

Massachusetts is just one of several states where voters could decide at the ballot box on a minimum wage hike. Activists and lawmakers in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Idaho, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota and Washington, D.C., are all pushing for placing the minimum wage issue on the ballot in November in those states.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates in several states have also sought to make the minimum wage a central issue in their campaigns,

Last week, the Democratic Governors Association highlighted dismissive remarks about raising the minimum wage made by Gov. Rick Snyder, R-Mich., Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Illinois Republican Bruce Rauner, while spotlighting several of their candidates - including Charlie Crist in Florida, Rep. Mike Michaud in Maine and Mark Schauer in Michigan - who support a hike in the rate.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke this week set out to separate herself on the issue from the Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, who recently called a Democratic effort in the state Legislature on the issue "political grandstanding."

Keeping the wage at $7.25 an hour "is basically ensuring that people have to be dependent on government programs," Burke said in an interview on WISN-TV. "I think increasing the minimum wage leads to people being able to support themselves and their families, and we can do it in a way that's not going to hurt job creation."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: States gaining speed on minimum wage faster than Obama

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