OLYMPIA — House Democrats dived into the minimum-wage debate Thursday with a proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage nearly 30 percent, to $12 an hour, by 2017.
Under the proposal, the state’s current $9.32-an-hour minimum wage would increase to $10 an hour starting Jan. 1, 2015, and would get an additional $1-an-hour bump at the beginning of 2016 and again in 2017. The wage increase would be for people 18 and older.
After that, wage increases would revert to the current method, which ties increases in pay to inflation.
The GOP-led caucus controlling the Senate opposes the idea, arguing it would put Washington state businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, said the intent of the bill — to lift people out of poverty — is good, but it would have the opposite effect. “I do not think this idea will create one additional job,” she said.
Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, disagreed, adding that “there is a real conservative principle behind this, that you should reward work.”
Farrell is the prime sponsor of House Bill 2672. She’s a rookie lawmaker from the 46th District, which includes parts of northeast Seattle, Lake Forest Park and Kenmore.
It’s not clear at this point if the measure will get a floor vote in the House. More than 30 House Democrats have signed onto the bill, but some members of the caucus do not support the legislation. It takes 50 votes to pass a measure in the House. Democrats control the chamber, 55-43.
Gov. Jay Inslee in his state-of-the-state address this year called for increasing the state minimum wage by as much as $2.50 an hour, calling it “a step toward closing the widening economic gap.” The House proposal goes a bit beyond Inslee’s.
Increasing the minimum wage to help bridge growing income disparity has become a hot topic across the nation and locally.
It was a dominant issue last year in Seattle campaigns. Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant ran as a socialist on a platform of a $15 minimum wage for all workers. One of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s first moves after taking office was an executive order telling his staff to take the first steps toward raising the minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour.
Washington has the highest state minimum wage in the country. Census figures show 13.5 percent of the state’s population lived below the federal poverty rate in 2012, up from 10.6 percent in 2000. Nationally, 15.9 percent of the population lived below the poverty rate in 2012.
More than a half million workers in the state would benefit if the minimum wage was increased to $12 an hour, according to the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, a private, progressive-leaning think tank.