Boost state minimum wage to $13.50? Governor endorses it; others advise caution, suggest other ways to expand opportunity

In yesterday’s State of the State message, (video here) Gov. Jay Inslee endorsed a proposed November measure to increase the state minimum wage.

I’m seeing Washingtonians — hard-working people in every corner of this state — struggling with rising housing prices, with student loan debt, with medical bills. That’s why I’m supporting the initiative that was filed yesterday that phases in a true minimum wage and provides paid sick leave for hard-working Washingtonians.

The Seattle Times summarizes the measure, 

Supporters of raising Washington state’s minimum wage filed a ballot measure Monday that seeks to incrementally raise Washington’s minimum wage to $13.50 an hour over four years starting in 2017, as well as provide paid sick leave to employees without it.

Here’s the advocates’ perspective. The arguments are similar to those heard during the SeaTac and Seattle debates on the $15 wage.

It’s not easy to get these things right. Our state includes regions enjoying enviable economic prosperity and regions still struggling. Sen. Linda Parlette makes the point to Northwest Public Radio. 

Republican leaders argue minimum wage is an issue that divides urban Washington from rural communities. State Senator Linda Evans Parlette represents Wenatchee.

“There’s a big difference in downtown Seattle, downtown Tacoma where most of the Democrats come from, so it’s not even an issue of discussion where I live,” Parlette said.

The Washington Research Council reports on several municipal minimum wage measures and notes this on the new statewide initiative. 

The initiative specifies, “Tips and service charges paid to an employee are in addition to, and may not count towards, the employee’s hourly minimum wage.”

… The initiative would also require employers statewide to provide paid sick leave. Employees would accrue one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked, beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Interestingly, the initiative does not preempt cities on these topics…

The WRC also links to its analysis of the economic consequences of minimum wage increases.

Minimum wages have been consistently shown to reduce employment and mobility. If the goal is poverty reduction, there are much more efficient and targeted methods. … Increases in the minimum wage are a tradeoff. Some gain, but many lose. Those who keep their jobs and their hours benefit. But those employees who lose their jobs or have their hours reduced lose out. Research shows that the negative impacts on individuals and businesses are real and long-lasting.

As we wrote here, it’s still too early to determine the effects of the Seattle wage hike. (More discussion here).

With respect to the stated goals of reducing poverty, Association of Washington Business president Kris Johnson says in a prepared statement

“Our desire is for a strong, growing economy in which everyone has the opportunity to find a good-paying career and advance in their chosen profession. We believe the Legislature is better positioned to address this important issue by working with small businesses to ensure they aren’t disproportionately harmed by a minimum wage increase that could make it harder for them to grow and hire more workers.

“In the coming weeks and months, we will carefully study the proposed initiative and we look forward to working with lawmakers and other interested parties to discuss ways to help wages grow in all sectors of the economy, including entry-level positions. One of the best ways to do this is to focus on education, both K-12 and higher education. We need to ensure that all students have access to high-quality, affordable education that gives them the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century workforce.”

The governor’s endorsement adds to the likelihood that the minimum wage initiative will make it to the ballot, though there’s no guarantee. It is, nonetheless, certain that the minimum wage will be a topic of considerable discussion both during the session and the 2016 campaign cycle. Ideally, that discussion will be broadened to focus on the more compelling question of how to expand opportunity and economic mobility statewide.

As AWB’s Johnson said, that’s a question that is more likely to be successfully addressed by education than by wage mandates of uncertain effectiveness. That’s why our roadmap places such a strong emphasis on education, our Achieve priority.