By Julia Jackson
LINCOLN - Nebraskans gave overwhelming support to increase the minimum wage to $9 by January 2016 in Tuesday's midterm elections.
The measure was winning with 61 percent to 39 percent of the vote as of 10 p.m. Tuesday.
Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln and Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha were the two driving forces behind the initiative, gathering more than 135,000 signatures to have the measure put on the ballot.
"What the early results show was really mirrored in our campaign," Conrad said. "I think it's a clear illustration to Nebraska policy makers not to ignore working families' issues."
Doug Kagan, president of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, said he was disappointed with the result.
"Nebraska is going to be inferior to surrounding states as far as being attractive for businesses to locate here," Kagan said.
Kagan said the higher minimum wage in Nebraska will cause businesses to look past Nebraska because of the higher labor costs compared to states like South Dakota and Missouri, which have lower minimum wage rates.
"The effects might not be immediate but they'll be gradual over the next year or so," Kagan said.
Nebraskans will see the first increase of minimum wage in January of 2015, where it will move to $8 an hour, and then $9 by January 2016. The bill is separate from the federal proposed minimum wage of $10.10 an hour incrementally, over two years.
Nordquist introduced the initiative in January during the legislative session, but it failed to be approved.
Supporters of the initiative say that it will boost spending in the local economy and create around 400 jobs. Opponents say the raise will largely hurt small businesses, causing them to cut jobs and reduce current employees' hours.
Currently, about one in six Nebraskans receive the minimum wage.
Supporters of the wage increase include Nebraskans for Better Wages, Nebraska Appleseed and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chuck Hassebrook.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom were among those against the minimum wage increase.
The minimum wage increase will not affect workers who receive tipped wage. The hourly rate will stay at $2.15 an hour.