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Legal questions delay minimum-wage decision

OLYMPIA – Washington state has delayed a decision on whether to raise the nation’s highest minimum wage because of questions over the intent of the voter initiative that ties the figure to inflation.

The state Department of Labor and Industries was supposed to release its official determination Thursday. But spokeswoman Renee Guillierie told the Associated Press that based on “different legal positions that have been presented in recent weeks” they would make a final decision by Oct. 15.

The state’s minimum wage is tied to inflation, as dictated by a 1998 voter-approved initiative. Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, fell last year for the first time since the initiative took effect.

Federal numbers showed an overall increase in the index, though it’s still lower than the last time the state minimum wage increased in 2009.

The agency had asked Attorney General Rob McKenna if the state could increase the minimum wage if the Consumer Price Index increases to less than the level the current wage is based upon. In an opinion issued earlier this month, McKenna said no.

The group behind Initiative 688 opposes McKenna’s interpretation.

“We wrote it, and we purposely did not put the word deflation in there,” said Rick Bender, president of the Washington state Labor Council. “If the cost of living goes up, so does the minimum wage.”