Will North Carolina become the 16th state to raise the minimum wage? It may happen, but in spite of Democratic leaders in the state senate.

In a surprise move, the NC House recently voted to up the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6 an hour -- the first increase in eight years. Savvy Democrats and their allies sweetened the deal by including a tax credit for small businesses that provide health insurance for their employees.

But just as the hopes of the working poor were rising, Senate Democrats are dashing them. The Senate leadership has demanded that the minimum wage bill also include steep cuts in the corporate income tax, and other measures that help the state's richest 1% -- moves which make the bill less fair, and less likely to pass.

Today's Raleigh News & Observer eloquently makes the case for why wages for working people should be inceased -- without draining the state's treasury for the rich:

For starters, a raise from $5.15 an hour to $6 an hour will help more than 100,000 people in this state. Most are not teenagers working summer jobs, but adults working in retail, sales or services.

In 2004 dollars, those folks are earning 12 percent less than they did when Congress set the minimum where it is today. Meantime, the price of gasoline has skyrocketed, increasing the cost of holding down a job. A society that values its work ethic needs to nurture it from time to time.

Fears that an 85-cent pay hike for 100,000 people will dry up jobs in a state of 8 million are overblown. Neither the 1990-91 federal minimum wage hike nor the 1996-97 raise caused significant job losses, researchers with the Economic Policy Institute found. In fact, North Carolina's senators could find in that research more reason to raise the minimum than to turn their backs on thousands of hard-working people.

The N.C. Justice Center has a brief on the minimum wage issue here (pdf).