January 7, 2009 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: Minimum rage

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The annual bump in the minimum wage for Washington state is accompanied by the usual complaints.

“The economy can’t handle it. People will lose their jobs. Now is not the time.”

Then when? The minimum wage was begun in 1938, in the midst of the Great Depression. Times aren’t that bad. Plus, it’s not like critics are supportive when times are good. The federal minimum wage was frozen at $3.58 an hour from 1981 to 1990. Then it was stuck on $5.15 from 1997 to 2007. And every year proponents of an increase were told that now is not the time.

Washington state’s minimum wage is now $8.55 an hour (and $7.27 for 14- and 15-year-olds). But it still hasn’t reached the height of its buying power, which was in 1968. That year, the federal minimum was $1.60 an hour, which translates to $9.42 in 2007 dollars.

The following year, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent. Though the minimum wage steadily lost its value, the jobless rate has not been that low since.

Just say so. “Now is not the time” was a familiar refrain during endorsement interviews when it came to the topic of tax increases. Fed up, I finally asked Jim Risch, who would win a U.S. Senate seat in Idaho, when the proper time would be. He replied that for him the answer is never. At least he was honest.

Wrong tax. Tim Eyman’s latest initiative would return to taxpayers whatever money governments collect beyond an annually adjusted inflation cap. The refund would come in the form of a property-tax reduction. He says property owners need a break.

Well, I’m sure they’d love a break, but in relative terms, Washington state’s property taxes aren’t that burdensome. In 2006 (the latest figures available), the state ranked 29th in property taxes per $1,000 of income, according to the state Department of Revenue. The national average is $34.92. The state’s figure is $30.75.

It’s the sales tax that’s inordinately high in Washington, and the people hit hardest by that are less likely to own property.

Free at last! Apologies to parents whose kids attend schools that are still closed, but I just can’t contain my excitement. I never dreamed that a routine could be so thrilling. Never imagined that normalcy could deliver such pleasure.

After nearly three weeks of being cooped up with my children, whether traveling or being shut in at home, I have finally been relieved of reverse separation anxiety. That’s the mental disorder triggered by the thought that you’ll never be apart from your children again. The delayed gratification brought on by a cautious sheriff only made the escape more enjoyable.

For those still awaiting your release date, let me assure you that it is more amazing than you imagined.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5026.


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