During Montana's 90-day legislative session lawmakers moved beyond the bitter acrimony that bedeviled their last meeting two years ago. Instead, legislators worked to craft a compromise budget that made new investments in health care and education, but saw agency spending drop 2%. While working families were protected on key issues, the state did take several steps back on the environmental front as laws regulating resources extraction and energy infrastructure saw rollbacks in multiple areas.
Recently conservatives in Montana sought to roll back the annual cost-of-living wage increases for minimum wage workers that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2006 by 73-27%. Montana is one of twenty-seven states (plus the District of Columbia)
that has a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, and one
of eleven states that index the minimum wage to the consumer price
index. Montana progressives successfully fought a conservative push by
the restaurant industry to keep wages stagnant.
In a positive step forward for federal respect of state regulatory powers, President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider a previously denied waiver to allow California to set more stringent auto emissions and fuel efficiency standards than required by federal law. In a statement by the White House, President Obama said "the federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." The directive represents not only greater respect for state authority, but also a sharp break from the climate policies of President Obama's predecessor.
Washington State minimum wage workers got a raise January 1st to $8.55
per hour -- now the highest minimum wage in the country. Like nine
other states, Washington automatically increases its minimum wage each
year at the rate of inflation to make sure families don't face a de facto pay
cut as rising costs eat into family budgets. Because the federal
minimum wage is not indexed to inflation in this way, we have seen a
decline in its value from $9.34 in inflation-adjusted dollars down to
just $6.55 per hour this past year. This trend highlights why state
efforts to index the minimum wage to keep up with inflation are so