Under Initiative 1433, the minimum wage in Metaline Falls, in depressed Pend Oreille County, will be higher than Portland’s by 2020.
Proponents wish to take the state’s relatively high minimum wage and boost it even more, from Sammamish to St. John to Sunnyside. In addition, the initiative would require every employer to provide sick leave (at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked).
The current minimum wage is $9.47, and it rises to $9.53 next year (workers under age 16 may be paid 85 percent of that). I-1433 would raise Washington’s to $11 in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019 and $13.50 in 2020.
Seattle is home to a soaring economy, so its ability to absorb a high minimum wage is different from that of Spokane and small towns. The hotly debated progress report on Seattle’s minimum wage is beside the point to the most of the state.
The economic variation in Washington is stark. West Side suburbs glisten with new money. Towns that once hummed with natural-resource-based jobs are hurting.
I-1433 proponents must shut their eyes as they traverse the state, because the initiative does not recognize the widely differing circumstances in Mercer Island vs. Metaline Falls. It does not offer wage flexibility. It does not exempt small businesses from the sick leave mandate. Spokane’s recently adopted sick leave ordinance does offer such relief, as a nod to reality.
No wonder I-1433 is called a blunt instrument.
When Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Avista Corp., was asked what the impact would be, he told The Spokesman-Review: “The problem is, we don’t know. It’s sort of uncharted territory.”
Studies abound on the subject. Each side has its favorites. But an increase of this magnitude and speed is a different ball game. The politics of the minimum wage seem to make an increase inevitable. The West Side has enough voters to ignore the rest of the state. For this reason, we wish the Legislature had pursued a slower, flexible increase, similar to the one that Oregon recently adopted.
Under that plan, the minimum wage is set in three tiers that reflect the reality of variable economies: higher in the Portland metro area, somewhat lower in other cities and lower still in rural areas. By 2020, the difference between the minimum wage in Portland and a small town will be $1.75 an hour.
The moral argument that the minimum wage should be a “living wage” sounds terrific in theory. In reality, it puts the onus for housing, health care, transportation and utility costs squarely on the shoulders of employers (large and small). Increases in any of those factors can make it more difficult to make payroll, but the living-wage logic says, “Time for a raise.”
Plus, as everyone knows, a living wage is determined by where you live.
I-1433 doesn’t bother with these details, so we urge voters to reject it.