05/09/2012 06:41 pm ET

Missouri Minimum Wage Hike: Backers Say They Have Enough Signatures To Qualify For Ballot

Backers of an effort to raise Missouri's minimum wage said Monday that they have submitted enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot.

The proposal would increase the minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 an hour in 2013 and provide for future yearly cost-of-living adjustments. If the federal minimum wage rose above the state's, Missouri would adopt the higher number.

The measure would also require that tipped employees receive 60 percent of the state minimum wage, up from 50 percent.

"There was incredible grassroots energy behind this," said Lara Granich, director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, which backed the proposal. Granich estimated that the campaign turned in 175,000 signatures -- nearly double the number needed.

Missouri Jobs with Justice had earlier spearheaded a 2006 campaign to raise the minimum wage to $6.50; that measure passed with more than 75 percent of the vote.

Advocates say the current measure would help Missouri's lowest-paid workers keep up with rising prices.

"Everything is going up but the paycheck," said Val Gordon, a St. Louis home-care attendant who spent seven months gathering signatures for the petition. "$8.25, it would help a little bit."

Over the past few years, Gordon said, she's had increasing difficulty paying her bills with a minimum-wage job. Her 21-mile commute to work costs her too much, she said, and days off are hard to afford.

"I have to decide whether to spend all of my money going to the doctor or go to work sick ... and me being a caregiver, it's hard to take care of a sick person while being sick," she said.

A number of state business groups, including those in the restaurant industry, oppose the wage increase.

David Stokes of the free-market Show-Me Institute, which views minimum wage legislation as harmful, said the measure would hurt employment numbers, especially for teenaged workers.

"I think in a recession, while there might be the temptation to do it, I would hope that people would think twice about artificially increasing the price of labor, with the realization that with fewer jobs to go around in the first place, the harm's that some people are going to be put out of work," Stokes said.

The minimum wage measure has already been hit with a lawsuit from a Kansas City restaurant owner, and Granich predicted it would face further legal wrangling, including possible challenges over the collected signatures.

"The opposition, I think, knows that ... voters want this," she said. "So they're doing everything they can to keep voters from being able to vote on it."

The minimum wage has also been a hot topic in Missouri's U.S. Senate race, with three Republican hopefuls failing to remember the number when asked during a debate.