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  1. Florida Politics

Steve Bousquet column: Rick Scott, Charlie Crist and the minimum wage

Published Jan. 14, 2014

In the coming months, Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist will discover dozens of issues that divide them.

One area of disagreement tells us a lot about Scott, Crist and the political parties they both represent.

The minimum wage.

Florida is one of 13 states where the minimum wage went up Jan. 1 because it's tied to inflation. It increased a whopping 14 cents an hour and is now $7.93.

President Barack Obama and many Democrats are backing an effort that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over a two-year period. Republicans generally oppose raising the minimum wage on the argument that it hurts small businesses and would result in lost jobs.

Crist was the Republican state attorney general in 2004 when unions launched a statewide petition drive to increase the minimum wage by $1 an hour. As the Times reported in 2006 when Crist was running for governor, he stayed silent on the issue back then.

"He didn't say anything, as I recall," said Brian Kettenring of ACORN, one of the groups pushing the wage hike, which passed with 71 percent of the vote.

"I don't think I had a problem with it," Crist said in 2006. But as a member of the board of Enterprise Florida in 2004, he joined in a unanimous vote to oppose the higher wage.

Now, as a Democratic candidate for governor, Crist enthusiastically supports a higher minimum wage. He wrote an opinion piece for newspapers two weeks ago in which he said, "We need to do more."

"Unfortunately," Crist said, "Rick Scott just doesn't seem to get it."

The Republican Party, in rapid response mode, promptly blasted Crist and recalled his previous opposition.

Scott speaks often about his concern about holding down the cost of living for working families. But he has never advocated an increase in the minimum wage and has spoken of it in terms of how it would affect companies, not people.

During a debate in the 2010 campaign, Scott did not know that the minimum wage at the time in Florida was $7.25 an hour (neither did his opponent, Alex Sink).

Asked at a news conference two years ago if voters in Florida made the right decision in raising the minimum wage, Scott said: "You have to be careful because if you have a wage that basically gives people an incentive not to hire people, I think it's a real problem."

Democrats across the country will make the issue of "income inequality" a major talking point in 2014. Two Democratic state lawmakers from Miami have filed bills to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in Florida to help working families. A spokesman for Scott said the idea made the governor "cringe."

"If we are asking people to aspire to raise a family on a minimum wage job, then we have already failed miserably," Scott said through spokesman John Tupps. "Even if we did raise the minimum wage, working families will still not be able to make ends meet on those jobs."

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

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