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 today. But spokeswoman Renee Guillierie said that based on “different legal positions that have been presented in recent weeks” they would make a final decision 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.
“It’s a very unusual situation that we find ourselves in, in which the initiative talks about calculating the new minimum wage each year based on the Consumer Price Index,” Guillierie said. “Some questions have been raised about what is the intent there.”
Washington state’s minimum wage is $8.55, the highest in the nation. The federal minimum wage is $7.25. Last year was the first year that the state wage didn’t go up since Initiative 688 passed, because inflation fell. It’s now growing again, but at a slower rate.
Colorado’s minimum wage dropped slightly this year, from $7.28 to the federal level of $7.25, because of the drop in inflation.
Other states with adjustable minimum wages are Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Most states that tie the wage to inflation make no provision for lowering the amount, including Washington, so the minimum wage stays flat if the cost of living falls.