SEATTLE – Seattle’s incoming mayor announced Thursday that he would give a big task force of business, labor, government and academics four months to come up with a plan to raise the city’s minimum wage.
Mayor-elect Ed Murray said his goal is to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, but he’ll let the task force work out the details.
Seattle has become a flash point in a national debate over raising the minimum wage, even though Washington state already has the highest statewide minimum wage in the nation at $9.19 an hour.
The Washington D.C. Council has voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2016. Citizens in the city of SeaTac narrowly approved a $15 minimum wage for airport workers in the November election.
Murray’s announcement comes a few days after Seattle’s new Socialist City Council member announced she wanted to put the issue to voters. They met to talk about the issue after her news conference, and Murray appointed Kshama Sawant to the task force.
Murray wants the council to decide this issue and doesn’t want business and labor to waste money on an expensive initiative campaign. The minimum wage is the first item on his list of ideas to make Seattle a better place for the middle class.
Also on the list are housing, education and health care.
“We have a challenge before us. Is this going to be a city of the rich or is this going to be a city of diversity?” he asked at a news conference to introduce the Income Inequality Advisory Committee.
Sawant said on Thursday that she would wait until April to decide whether to push for an initiative to Seattle voters.
The task force is scheduled to give its recommendations to Murray by May 2014.
City Council Member Nick Licata expressed confidence the city will raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“We’re a strong, caring city. Generally we do what needs to be done,” Licata said.
“We got Elvis Presley to come here. … I think we can get to a $15 minimum wage.”
He and others also compared the campaign to Washington’s adoption of gay marriage, an effort for which Murray was a leader.
“A lot of things are possible,” Sawant said. “For all the naysayers who think this can’t be done in Seattle – marriage equality is a good example.”