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Inslee: Minimum wage prospects not good in Lege

OLYMPIA -- Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants a public conversation about raising the state's minimum wage but acknowledged today the chance an increase will pass the 2014 Legislature are not good.

"I can't be optimistic it's going to pass the state Senate this year," he said during a telephone press conference from Washington, D.C., where he's attending the National Governors Conference. . . 

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. . . But even the Democrat-controlled House failed to move a bill that would raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour over three years. Republican proposals to institute a "training wage" for teen workers also failed to meet key deadlines and the issue appears dead with the Legislature that has only 20 days left in its session.

When Inslee and other Democratic governor's met with President Obama earlier in the day, an increase the minimum wage was part of the discussion. Obama wants to raise the federal minimum wage and Inslee wants to raise the state minimum wage, which is about $2 higher than the federal standard.

Inslee said a higher minimum wage is a key to economic growth in Washington as the state struggles to come out of the recession. Minimum wage workers often receive public assistance even though they work 40 hours a week, and "they can't be good consumers." Any increase in pay they get is spent quickly and goes back into the economy, he said.

Opponents of a minimum wage increase, however, painted a different picture in legislative discussions, saying any requirement for  higher wages will result in some people losing their job, and bring hurt the economy.

Faced with poor legislative prospects, Inslee said he wants a "broader discussion" with the public, isn't calling for a statewide initiative to raise the minimum wage. He said he has no opinion on whether cities like Seattle should pursue a so-called living wage of $15 an hour, but wouldn't discourage city officials if they want to try it.

Over the weekend, Inslee will be meeting with cabinet officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and will push for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements on testing requirements for state schools. A mix of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in the Senate turned down a bill that would have met those requirements on Tuesday, and the state could lose some $40 million in federal funds for its schools if it doesn't get a waiver. 

Inslee wouldn't say what he will propose to Duncan, or even if it would require legislation. "I won't give you a yes or no on that." 

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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