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County poses questions to voters

Douglas County joined 17 other localities in Wisconsin to give voters a chance to weigh in on the state’s refusal to accept additional federal money for BadgerCare.

Voters in Douglas County will also get a chance to share their opinion on the state minimum wage and the elimination of the state’s tipped wage.

The Douglas County Board approved posing the advisory referendums to voters during the Nov. 4 election.

“As with anything, there is an upside and a downside, and I would like to see some education with this,” said Supervisor Alan Jaques during discussion on the state minimum wage question.

Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn agreed educating the public on the issues is important.

Supervisor Keith Allen questioned whether the minimum wage questions could be split. After all, the resolution includes two issues, an increase in the state minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour, and elimination of state tipped minimum wage.

That wage is now $2.33 per hour, adjusted in 2009 when the current minimum wage went into effect.

According to the Tips Work Coalition, the U.S. restaurant industry has relied on tipped wages for nearly 50 years. Today’s tipped wage law was validated in 1996 as part of a bipartisan agreement passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. The agreement amended the federal Fair Labor Standards Act provided hard-working Americans the opportunity to use tips as a way to earn a wage well above the minimum wage.

Since the validation of the tipped wage, full-service restaurants have created nearly 1.4 million new jobs have been created and currently the restaurant industry provides more than 3 million tipped jobs across the U.S, according to the coalition.

In the rare event that an employee does not earn enough tips to earn above the minimum wage, the law requires employers to make up the difference. This means that restaurant servers never make below the legal minimum wage in their state. In fact, servers earn a median hourly wage between $16-$22, including tips and employer-paid hourly wages, according to the coalition.

“I feel that it won’t be passed in certain areas, and I want to send a strong message,” Allen said. He said the tipped wage is an antiquated law.

The Board didn’t divide the question on minimum and tipped wages.

A yes answer to the ballot question would advise the governor and Legislature that voters in Douglas County want to see the minimum wage increased and tipped wages abolished.

The first question asks voters to weigh in on whether the next state Legislature should accept available federal funds for BadgerCare to ensure Wisconsin citizens have access to quality, affordable health care.

The measure is being considered after Gov. Scott Walker rejected increased federal funding for Medicaid.

Last week, county boards in Oneida, Wood, and Portage counties and the Kenosha City Council also approved placing advisory referendums on the November ballot asking voters whether the state of Wisconsin should accept enhanced available federal funds for BadgerCare rejected by Walker and conservatives in the Legislature. Rock, Chippewa, Jefferson, St Croix, Bayfield, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Dunn, Lincoln, Clark, Outagamie, Dane, Milwaukee counties also are posing the question to voters in November.

“The momentum is growing,” said Supervisor Dave Conley.

The supervisor from Lake Nebagamon said the goal is to open the state’s eyes to the economic opportunity for the state.

“It makes a lot of sense to some people,” Conley said. “We’re helping our neighbors; we’re helping the state by accepting these dollars.”

According to Citizen Action of Wisconsin, as many as 38,000 forced off BadgerCare were unable to enroll in Marketplace plans, and fell into a coverage gap without the enhanced federal dollars.

“This is old fashioned Wisconsin democracy at work,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “A wave of BadgerCare referendums sweeping Wisconsin will give voters across the state the opportunity to weigh in on a critical public issue.”