OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Washington state lawmaker has introduced a bill to increase what is already the highest state minimum wage in the nation to $12 an hour over the next three years, but the measure faces an uphill battle in a politically divided Legislature.
Under state House Bill 2672, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jessyn Farrell, of Seattle, the rate would first increase — for workers 18 and older — from the current $9.32 an hour to $10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2015. It would increase again to $11 a year later and would hit $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017. After that, further annual increases would be based on inflation. More than 30 House Democrats have also signed on to the bill.
At a news conference Thursday to announce the bill, Farrell said that the measure is to meant to “promote the idea that a day’s work should produce a living wage.”
“The goal here is that people should be able to pay their rent, pay for child care, pay for food, without government assistance,” she said.
The measure is likely to face serious resistance in the state Senate, which is controlled by a predominantly Republican majority that has expressed misgivings about any increase in the state’s minimum wage potential impact on businesses.
Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, a Republican from Moses Lake who is chairwoman of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee, said that the measure would not only discourage businesses from opening or expanding in the state, it could also lead business owners to potentially lay people off or hire fewer people.
“If their intent is to help those in poverty, I think it’s a good intent, but I think this will do the exact opposite,” she said.
The minimum wage issue has been in the political spotlight recently in the state. Voters in the airport city of SeaTac in November narrowly approved a measure granting a $15 an hour minimum wage for workers at the airport and related industries, like hotels and rental car companies. A King County Superior Court judge ruled that the law applied to about 1,600 hotel and parking lot workers in SeaTac, but not to employees and contractors working within Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is operated by the Port of Seattle.
In Seattle, officials have been exploring the possibility of raising the minimum wage there to as high as $15 an hour. Earlier this month, newly elected Mayor Ed Murray directed his department leaders to come up with a strategy for paying city employees more. Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee in his State of the State address called for the state minimum wage to increase by between $1.50 and $2.50 an hour.
A bill introduced by Republican Sen. John Braun, of Centralia, would forbid cities, counties and port districts from changing the minimum wage beyond the state level, even if such an increase is approved by initiative. That measure is not likely to gain traction in the Democratic-controlled House.
Voters in Washington state approved an initiative in 1998 that requires the state Department of Labor and Industries to make a cost-of-living adjustment to its minimum wage each year based on the federal Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers.
The state is one of 11 that make such an adjustment, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
The state’s minimum wage applies to workers in both agricultural and nonagricultural jobs, although 14- and 15-year-olds may be paid 85 per cent of the adult minimum wage, or $7.92 per hour in 2014.
Follow Rachel La Corte at https://twitter.com/RachelAPOly .