Wages vote creates buzz

I’m sure many people in Okanogan and Ferry counties are keeping an eye on statewide election results as the remaining close races are determined.

Although elections on the western side of the state are unlikely to have any significant effect east of the Cascades, they can show what direction the more populated portion of the state is headed. And I’m sure, judging from the political climate of our region, local residents are cringing at two elections in particular.

Seattle voters have elected a Socialist to fill one position on City Council.

Meanwhile, SeaTac voters are narrowly approving a proposition to set a $15 an hour minimum wage.

To me, this is a fascinating issue, one that will not only draw the attention of residents throughout the state, but also of economists, media organizations and politicians across the nation.

As of Saturday, the proposition was leading by 46 votes. Even if it’s approved by the voters, I could see it facing another challenge as wealthy corporate interests push the courts to intervene.

I’m hoping the $15 minimum wage passes and survives the imminent court battle.

I think it will be an excellent case study for the merits and disadvantages of a minimum wage more than double that of the federal minimum wage and a bump of more than $5 an hour from Washington’s current minimum wage, which is already the highest in the nation.

Conventional wisdom says that higher wages will constrict businesses, kill profit margins and force widespread layoffs and a higher unemployment rate.

But I’m a believer in the quote by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that “the best customer of American industry is the well-paid worker.”

Workers who make more money are going to spend more money. They’ll drive newer cars and trucks, have better toys, newer clothing. They’ll contribute more to the local economy by spending money on golf and recreation activities, eating out at local restaurants, Workers who make more money are more likely to own homes or do remodeling projects, which builds the housing market and fuels the construction industry, retail businesses, logging operations and lumber mills.

The increase in money being spent will lead to an increase in sales tax revenue for the city and the state, resulting in the ability to offer better police services, fire protection, amenities like parks and better schools.

However, if it were that simple, every state would have implemented higher minimum wages.

There are bound to be negative effects.

Some businesses, I’m sure, will opt to lay off a Some businesses, I’m sure, will opt to lay off a portion of their workforces rather than eat the profit loss of higher wages for the lowest-paid workers. Others companies are bound to move outside city limits.

A struggling restaurant that can’t pay its wait staff $15 an hour might move a couple miles out of town simply to avoid the higher cost of doing business inside SeaTac.

And of course, the airport makes SeaTac a unique situation in itself.

What might work for SeaTac, because of its position as a major transportation hub, might not necessarily work for other cities in the state or in other parts of the country.

There’s also a question of motivation. What would it do to a workforce that no longer needs to go to college or work hard to get a job that pays well? Would there be an epidemic of underachievers content to make the inflated minimum wage?

Regardless, this is an experiment the rest of the nation should be paying close attention to.

It will take a couple years to see the true results.

But it should expose the pitfalls and virtues of a significantly higher minimum wage.

Garrett Rudolph is the managing editor of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at grudolph @omakchronicle.com.

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