Legislators fight wage increase

Proponents say higher minimum would be beneficial to the economy

— A proposal by the governor to significantly raise the state’s minimum wage has been given a cold reception this week by 7th and 12th District lawmakers.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday during his State of the State address that Washington should boost its minimum wage — already the highest in the nation — another $1.50 to $2.50 an hour.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-7th District, said Inslee has a lot of ideas, but has not delivered specifics about how to turn them into reality. Kretz said he’s more concerned with creating jobs than worrying about the minimum wage.

“I just reject the idea that minimum wage is supposed to be a living wage,” Kretz said.

However, Okanogan County Community Action Council Executive Director Lael Duncan said the perception that people who are making minimum wage want to work part time or are young people without experience is not accurate.

She said she sees a higher minimum wage as an overall positive to the economy.

“I don’t want it to be something that is a negative impact on small businesses,” she said, but pointed out that people making higher wages would have more disposable income, thus allowing more money for discretionary items and be better suited to meet financial obligations and pay off existing creditors.

Rep. Shelly Short, R-7th District, said a higher minimum wage would be particularly tough on small business owners, where the cost of labor is already one of the largest expenses.

“I think that’s the wrong thing to do,” Short said. “It’s not that I don’t want folks to do better, but… to do that as we’re trying to come out of a recession, I think people are going to lose jobs, or they’re going to go to part time.”

Kretz pointed to the minimum wages of neighboring states.

“We’re already $2 higher than Idaho,” he said. “If we make it $3, $4, $5 more, what’s that going to do? I’m not a supporter of it.”

Short said she’s not convinced that a higher minimum wage equates to a higher quality of life.

“We know when you raise minimum wage, the cost of goods goes up,” she said.

Duncan said small businesses that are struggling to keep employees at the current minimum wage would be affected by an increase, but she said she would hope higher wages would also bring more customers in for those same businesses to possibly increase revenue.

Short also said there’s a great deal of uncertainty among businesses with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A higher minimum wage would only add to that shakiness, she said.

“The governor should lead the way in making our state more business-friendly, not driving business out of our state,” said Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-12th District. “Many small businesses operate with a very thin margin. They can either employ fewer people and pay them more or employ more people and pay them a little less. I think having more people working is much better for our state.”

Sen. Brian Dansel, R-7th District, said he “respectfully disagrees with the governor’s proposal to raise the minimum wage.

“Higher wages mean higher costs to employers which ultimately results in lost jobs,” Dansel said.

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