OLYMPIA – Raising the state’s minimum wage to $12 by 2019 was described as not enough by some and too much by others as a Senate committee provided another forum for what’s become a familiar debate in this session.
Although the House approved that increase to the state’s current rate of $9.47 in a series of four annual bumps, other legislators said they had other, and in their minds better, approaches the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee should consider.
“This proposal does not go far enough,” said Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, who suggested the state should raise it by 3 percent over the rate of inflation each year the state isn’t in a recession, in an effort to reach a living wage being advocated by Pope Francis.
It shouldn’t go up at all, Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said, because Washington currently has the highest minimum wage of any state in the country, and if proponents were right it would have the strongest economy in the country. But it doesn’t, he said, adding that any change to the minimum wage should have exceptions for lower wages for teens and trainees which the House wasn’t allowed to consider.
“This bill is not being promoted as a silver bullet,” said Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, the prime sponsor of the $12 wage bill. “It is a piece of the puzzle.”
It should be $13 an hour, but with credits for health care and sick leave to give small businesses some flexibility, Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said. But doing nothing would be dangerous, he added.
“There’s an initiative out there that could raise it to $15 an hour,” Hobbs said.
Restaurant, supermarket and health care workers all urged the committee to raise the minimum wage, but business executives squared off against each other. Jasmine Donovan of Dick’s Drive-In of Seattle arguing the state was underestimating the cost to businesses because hiking the minimum wage will mean those making above that level would expect a commensurate increase. Many beginning teen workers aren’t worth that amount, added Donovan, who serves on the Association of Washington Business committee on the topic.
Raising the minimum wage is good for the economy because those workers turn around and spend that money on essentials, said Molly Moon Nietzel, who owns six ice cream shops in Seattle. “The more money they have, the more ice cream they buy,” said Nietzel, who is a member of the Main Street Alliance, a progressive coalition of small businesses.
The minimum wage hike, along with other proposals to require mandatory sick leave and equal pay, would increase business costs and decrease flexibility, said Patrick Connor of the National Federation of Independent Business, which opposes the changes.
“If the sky were going to fall (from a higher minimum wage) we would know it by now because we’ve done it so many times,” said Lori Pfingst of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, which supports the change.
The committee has not scheduled a vote on the bill that would decide whether the full Senate has a chance to consider it.