State Legislature looks (cautiously) at $12 minimum wage
by John Stang
Sen. John Braun Credit: Washington State Legislature
A $12-per-hour minimum wage law is now in play in Olympia. The question is whether it will survive a chilly Republican-dominated Washington Senate?
Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, introduced a bill Thursday that would increase the state minimum wage from $9.32 an hour to $10 an hour in 2015, to $11 an hour in 2016 and to $12 an hour in 2017. Her bill has 31 Democratic co-sponsors and the support of Gov. Jay Inslee.
"Economic inequality has been at its starkest in three generations. This promotes the idea that a day's work should produce a living wage. … It's taking an incremental approach with a real meaningful impact," Farrell said. She cited a report that concluded an incremental approach enables businesses to more easily absorb the extra wages.
Farrell contended that increasing the minimum wage will not hurt border towns next to states with lower minimum wages and won't force businesses to lay off employees — citing a 2010 report in the Review of Economics and Statistics, a juried academic journal based in Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
And Farrell argued that the increased wages will circulate more money through the economy, creating more sales for businesses. Don Orange, a Vancouver auto shop owner and chairman of the Washington Main Street Alliance agreed: "If they don't have the wages, they can't be decent customers for us."
The Democrats produced statistics that said 243,839 of Washington's workers make less than $10 an hour and 551,303 make less than $12 an hour. Currently 29 percent of minimum wage employees are parents.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia and chairman of the Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee, said the Majority Coalition Caucus —24 Republicans and two Democrats who control the Senate — are concerned that an increased minimum wage would kill jobs. Washington currently has the highest state-set minimum wage in the nation. He said the majority coalition wants to stick with its own job-creation plans of trimming permitting, reforming workers compensation and not raising taxes to encourage businesses to hire more people in the state. He said two-thirds of the people below the poverty line do not have jobs.
All this sets up dueling clumps of opposing wage and job bills. And if the status quo remains, the House will kill all of the Senate Republican bills, and the Senate will kill all of the House Democratic bills.
Democrats and Inslee want to increase the minimum wage while opposing workers compensation reform. Braun recently introduced a bill that would forbid cities from increasing the minimum wages within their jurisdictions, which would nullify efforts in overwhelmingly Democratic Seattle plus SeaTac to increase their minimum wages independently of the state. The Senate Republicans still have a bill to create a "training wage" of 75 percent of the minimum wage for people during their first 680 hours on the job — something opposed by Democrats. The training wage bill is stalled but alive for further consideration. And there is a good chance that Senate Republicans will resurrect some stalled workers compensation reform bills opposed by the House Democrats.
Farrell and Braun were asked whether some bill trading might occur so each side could get some bills through.
"I'm new at this," said the freshman Farrell. "But one principle I've learned is you start out strong and don't negotiate with yourself in the media."
"I don't know," Braun said. "We're not ready to talk about it."