On November 6, 2018, a majority of Arkansans voted “yes” on Ballot Issue 5 commonly known as the Minimum Wage Increase Initiative.
Problems and Purpose:
The minimum wage in Arkansas was $8.50, $1.25 above the federal minimum wage. Many Arkansans, however, felt this minimum wage was not sufficient to keep families in Arkansas out of poverty and did not keep up with inflation. To combat these low wages, attorney David Couch of Arkansans for a Fair Wage filed an initiative to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas. The popular name of the initiative was “An Act to Increase the Arkansas Minimum Wage” . The initiative would increase the state minimum wage in increments, going up to $9.25/hour on January 1, 2019, $10.00/hour on January 1, 2020, and ending at $11.00/hour on January 1, 2021 .
Background History and Context:
By 2018, the minimum wage in Arkansas had been raised 25 times since the adoption of a state minimum wage of $1 in 1969. All but three times, the minimum wage has been increased by the Arkansas state legislature. The three times the minimum wage was not increased were done by a citizens initiative process. In 2014, Issue 5 was passed as a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage similarly to the increase proposed in 2018. The 2014 initiative increased the minimum wage from $6.25/hour to $7.50/hour in 2015, $8/hour in 2016, and ended at $8.50/hour in 2017 . Before 2015, the minimum wage in Arkansas was $6.25/hour, $1 under the federal minimum wage.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities:
There were four main organizations in support of this ballot measure. The lead supporter of this issue was Arkansans for a Fair Wage. The group was created specifically to support the passage of this ballot measure. In support of this legislation, the organization stated, “The cost of groceries, housing and other basics have gone up for years. But wages haven’t come close to keeping up. By gradually raising Arkansas’ minimum wage to $11 an hour, we can help hard-working people meet their basic needs. At the same time, we’ll help small businesses by putting more money into people’s pockets that they can spend on goods and services in our state" . This organization was able to raise $1.5 million dollars to support this initiative and they spent $1.49 million dollars . The top three donors to Arkansans for a Fair Wage were the Sixteen Thirty Fund ($1,346,000.00), The Fairness Project ($100,000) and the National Employment Law Project ($50,000) . The campaign against increasing the minimum wage was led by Arkansans for a Strong Economy. Many prominent state officials also did not not support the minimum wage increase in Arkansas. Most notably, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson opposed the measure stating raising the minimum wage would be “a job killer for our youth particularly. It is playing with fire to set a wage rate 3 years from now when we do not know the economic conditions that far down the road” . Associations representing economic sectors, such as the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Arkansas Hospitality Association, also opposed the measure.
Participant Recruitment and Selection:
In Arkansas, the requirements to have an initiated act appear on the ballot are stated in the Arkansas State Constitution. For an initiative to be placed on the ballot, it must receive the number of valid signatures that are equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Signatures must be collected in such a way that the number of valid signatures collected in at least 15 counties equals 4% of the total number of votes cast in that county in the last gubernatorial election . Every registered voter in Arkansas can sign in support of an initiative, however, they can only sign representing the county they are registered to vote in. This meant that the total number of signatures needed to get an initiated act on the ballot was 67,887. The signatures had to be submitted 4 months prior to the election (July 6, 2018) and published in a statewide publication at least 30 before the election .
Methods and Tools Used:
Supporters of this measure hired National Ballot Access, a petition management firm, to gather valid signatures for this initiative. The firm was paid a total of $510,946.70 to gather the required number of signatures. This resulted in a $7.53 cost per required signature .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation:
At the time, the signature collection process could not begin until the text and names, both formal and popular, were approved by the Attorney General of Arkansas. The Attorney General checked for constitutionality of the proposed legislation and if the names were misleading or not representative of the legislation. The Arkansas Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, rejected the proposed popular name and formal ballot title of the legislation on May 14 2018, and David Couch filed legal action against the Attorney General's ruling . On May 23, 2021 Attorney General Rutledge certified the names of the legislation after the Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled in favor of Couch . The supporters of the initiative were also given an extension until August 29, 2018 to collect the required number of signatures. On August 16, 2018, Arkansans for a Fair Wage turned in over 86,000 valid signatures, and the initiative was placed on the ballot as Issue 5 . A poll conducted by Talk Business and Politics and Hendrix College was conducted in September of 2018 and found that 60% of Arkansas supported increasing the minimum wage, 30% opposed the increase of the minimum wage, and 10% did not know .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects:
Issue 5 passed with a majority of Arkansans supporting the measure (68.46% voted yes and 31.54% voted no) . There was, however, substantial pushback from the state legislature. Many legislators tried to scale back the scope of the law by proposing legislation to prevent the minimum wage from applying to any employee under the age of 18, with a developmental disability, or convicted of a felony . Other attempts to reduce the effect of the law included exempting non-profits with operating budgets of less than $1 million and employers with less than 25 employees . None of these exemptions, however, were passed by the legislature after significant pushback from constituents.
Analysis and Lessons Learned:
It is important to note that Arkansas is one of only 22 states that have an initiative process . Arkansans have used this process many times to pass legislation that is popular with the citizens of the state but opposed by the legislature, such as the creation of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. Arkansans are generally supportive of increasing the minimum wage, even when it is opposed by the legislature. This process can be used in the future to continue passing progressive legislation that may not be supported by the legislature and state government.
 Ballotopedia. (2019). Arkansas Issue 5, Minimum Wage Increase Initiative (2018). Ballotopedia. https://ballotpedia.org/Arkansas_Issue_5,_Minimum_Wage_Increase_Initiative_(2018)#cite_note-ops-20
 Public Policy Center. (2018). Arkansas Ballot Issues. University of Arkansas System Divisionof Agriculture. pp 31 - 35. https://www.uaex.uada.edu/business-communities/voter-education/docs/Arkanas2018BallotIssueVoterGuide.pdf
 Arkansas Secretary of State. (2018). 2018 General Election and Nonpartisan Judicial Runoff. SCYTL. https://results.enr.clarityelections.com/AR/92174/Web02-state.216038/#/
 Ballotopedia. (2014). Arkansas Minimum Wage Initiative, Issue 5 (2014). Ballotopedia. https://ballotpedia.org/Arkansas_Minimum_Wage_Initiative,_Issue_5_(2014)#Background
 Arkansas Secretary of State. (2020). 2020 Initiatives and Referenda Handbook: Facts and Information for the 2020 General Election. Office of the Secretary of State. https://www.sos.arkansas.gov/uploads/2019-2020_I__R_Handbook_-_Jan_2020.pdf
 NCLTS. (n.d.). Initiative and Referendum States. NCLTS.
 Brock, Roby. (2018). Poll: Minimum wage registers high, casinos trail with voters. TalkBusiness and Politics.https://talkbusiness.net/2018/09/poll-minimum-wage-registers-high-casinos-trail-with-voters/
The first version of this case entry was written by Javier Hernandez, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.