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The April tax filing deadline always offers a bit of a reality check. There it is, in black and white — a permanent record of what we earned last year. It is a reminder that we do not stay in Montana to get rich. We choose to live here, and we appreciate that it is not always easy to make ends meet.

As you reflect on your past year, I invite you to think about what it would be like if that bottom line was capped at around $10,000 a year. Because, for far too many hard working Montanans, a full day’s work still means living in poverty.

The current minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has not been changed since it was set by Congress in 1997. As a result, the minimum wage is now at its lowest point in real terms in its 50-year history.

A full-time employee earning $5.15 per hour brings home $10,712 a year — 31 percent less than the federal poverty level for a family of three.

Most minimum wage earners are not young kids; sixty-three percent of minimum wage earners in Montana are over age 20.

Nationally, 70 percent have at least a high school degree, with almost a third of minimum wage earners having some college or advanced professional training.

Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have already raised their minimum wage rates, representing some 45 percent of the American workforce. It is time for Montanans to get a raise.

Initiative 151, Raise Montana’s proposed ballot measure, has two aims: (1) it increases the minimum wage to the greater of the federal minimum or $6.15 an hour and (2) it guarantees future increases by providing for automatic annual cost of living adjustments.

In order to be submitted to the voters at a general election, Raise Montana volunteers and staff need to collect over 22,000 signatures on petitions, from all corners of our state. A signature on the petition doesn’t mean that the pay increase is automatic. It only means that we will have the chance to vote in the November election whether to give Montanans a raise.

The proposal has broad support across Montana.

Polls conducted by Montana State University-Billings and Lee Newspapers in November and December 2005 found that over 75 percent of Montanans favored increasing the minimum wage by a dollar per hour.

Montanans support giving our friends and neighbors a raise because we know that what is good for them is also good for us.

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Of the 17 states that have already increased the minimum wage, there has never been any verifiable evidence of job loss or other economic downturns. Increasing the minimum wage provides more money to be spent in our communities, and more opportunity for hard working Montanans to break free from the cycle of poverty.

Raise Montana and its coalition members are working throughout our state gathering signatures and getting the message wage earners at all levels.

You can volunteer to help and get more information by going to our website, www.raisemontana.org

There is arguably no state in the nation where raising the minimum wage will mean more to working people.

Montana ranks 50th in the nation in average annual wage and first in the nation in the percentage of working people who hold at least three jobs to make ends meet. An increase in the minimum wage will directly affect an estimated 30,000 Montana workers and their families — with secondary effects reaching tens of thousand more.

Join us in helping Raise Montana.

Steve Bullock is a Helena lawyer and the executive director of Raise Montana. Additional information is available by e-mailing him at info@raisemontana.org or calling 495-VOTE.

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