OLYMPIA – Conceding it is unlikely the Legislature will heed his call to raise the state’s minimum wage, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday he wants a public conversation about the need for the increase.
“I can’t be optimistic it’s going to pass the state Senate this year,” he said during a telephone press conference from Washington, D.C., where he’s attending the National Governors Conference.
But even the Democratic-controlled House failed to move a bill that would raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour over three years. Republican proposals to institute a “training wage” for teen workers also failed to meet key deadlines, and the issue appears dead with only 19 days left in the legislative session.
Inslee and other Democratic governors met with President Barack Obama earlier in the day, and an increase in the minimum wage was part of the discussion. Obama wants to raise the federal minimum wage, and Inslee wants to raise the state minimum wage, which is about $2 higher than the federal standard.
A higher minimum wage is a key to economic growth in Washington as the state struggles to come out of the recession, Inslee said. Minimum-wage workers often receive public assistance even though they work 40 hours a week, and “they can’t be good consumers” with their current income, he said. Any increase in pay they get is spent quickly and goes back into the economy.
Opponents of a minimum-wage increase, however, painted a different picture in legislative discussions, saying any requirement for higher wages will result in some people losing their jobs as employers cut back, and will hurt the economy.
Faced with poor legislative prospects, Inslee said he wants a “broader discussion” with the public. He said that wouldn’t include calling for a statewide initiative to raise the minimum wage. He has no opinion on whether cities like Seattle should pursue a so-called living wage of $15 an hour, but he won’t discourage city officials if they want to try it, he said.
Over the weekend, Inslee will meet with Cabinet officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and will push for a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements on testing for state schools. A mix of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in the Senate turned down a bill designed to meet those requirements this week, and the state could lose some $40 million in federal funds for its schools if it doesn’t get a waiver.
Inslee wouldn’t say what he will propose to Duncan, or whether it would require legislation.