During his State of the State address last month, Gov. Jay Inslee said more needs to be done to strengthen the middle class. One part of that solution would be to increase the state minimum wage $1.50 to $2.50 per hour.
But state Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, said if the bill makes it to the House floor, he will vote against it.
“I’ve had a number of small business people from Puyallup come down to Olympia and emphatically oppose the minimum wage increase,” Zeiger said. “The restaurants came down and expressed their great concerns. Not only would people lose their jobs, but restaurants would have to close their doors because the cost of doing business would increase.”
House Bill 2672, which would increase minimum wage to $12 during the next three years, received a public hearing in the House Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on Feb. 4. It was sent the next day to the House Committee on Appropriations, where it received a hearing on Feb. 10. No action was taken.
Zeiger said that, although the bill could have potential to pass in the House, the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus would not give it a passing vote.
“I expect that it will die in the Senate,” Zeiger said.
Zeiger said the state needs to explore other ways to “make sure that low-income people are moving up the socioeconomic ladder.”
“Education is the first and best investment,” he said. “We need to be make sure that they have opportunities to succeed in our society.”
Zeiger said a wage increase would be harmful to people who are looking for jobs and would hurt low-income families.
“I would be worried that it would have the opposite effect of the intentions of those supporting it,” Zeiger said.
State Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup, who chairs the appropriations health and human services subcommittee, said the bill won’t make it to the House floor.
“I’m not supportive of the legislation right now because of its impacts to small business,” she said. “But it is an important discussion to have on inequality.”
Morrell said such an increase would be a statewide solution to a local problem.
“What works in Seattle may not work in Puyallup, Midland and Fife,” she said.
The state’s minimum wage currently is $9.32 an hour, the highest in the nation.
“Washington state has done a good job of recognizing that rewarding work is important,” Morrell said.
Last November, voters in SeaTac approved to increase its minimum wage to $15 for most workers. Seattle leaders also are considering an increase to $15.
The Puyallup-Sumner Chamber of Commerce government affairs committee is in the process of establishing a position on the minimum-wage-increase discussion.
“We don’t agree with the $15 minimum wage in SeaTac,” said Gary Kemmer, a committee member who is the president of Sumner-based STAC, Inc.
Kemmer, a small business owner, has a stake in the direction the discussion takes. At his industrial supplier and distribution company, his entry-level employees who have general administrative skills start at $12 an hour.
He said a statewide increase to $12 during the next three years would “change the whole entry-level wage structure.”
“It brings people up to that wage who have no skills where I would have to do more training, or I would have to pay more money for the general administrative person that I would hire,” Kemmer said.
He said an impact would be on his customers, who are manufacturers in need of his products. Customers range from a one-man cabinet shop, to Boeing, to the Department of Defense.
“My customers would be pressed to reduce their overhead,” Kemmer said. “If they were to be hit with a higher minimum wage, it would affect their marketability. They would come to me, asking for a lower price.”
That would result in the customers doing business elsewhere, he said.
“That means less business for me and less tax dollars for the local economy,” Kemmer said.
Morrell said that, although the House bill may go nowhere this session, the discussion on inequality and what to do about it will not go away any time soon.