Wolf wage plan is too aggressive

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s renewed proposal for an increase in the state minimum wage, which seemed dead on arrival at the time of his 2019-20 budget address on Feb. 6, might actually still be breathing, as a result of limited “life support” being provided by legislative Republicans.

Despite GOP lawmakers having attacked the governor’s proposal during the House Appropriations Committee’s first budget hearing on Feb. 11, comments by Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, on Feb. 25 opened a window for compromise with the governor between now and the June 30 budget-preparation deadline.

In his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, Wolf called for raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour; the state’s current minimum wage, which has been in effect since 2009, is $7.25, the same as the federal minimum.

While Wolf won’t win an accord for a hike to $12, the likelihood for a smaller increase, if the governor will concur, now seems possible, based on what Corman is saying.

Besides increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour next fiscal year, which would make that minimum among the highest in the nation, Wolf also wants 50-cent-an-hour increases, going forward, to bring the minimum hourly wage to $15, the same figure that some other states are working toward.

Like the increase to $12, it’s unlikely that the proposed 50-cent annual hikes here in Pennsylvania will win legislative approval, even though 17 other states have scheduled annual adjustments within their minimum wage laws.

Pennsylvania law prohibits the state’s municipalities from setting a local minimum wage, unlike in Illinois, where the city of Chicago already has a minimum wage of $12 an hour, which is scheduled to increase to $13 in July.

Illinois, whose current minimum wage is $8.25 an hour, is on track to have a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2025.

Pennsylvania is one of 21 states that have remained glued to the federal minimum-pay level, while the other 29 states, including all of this state’s neighbors, are above the federal minimum.

On Feb. 25, when Corman “cracked open” a window for compromise with Wolf, the majority leader indicated that there’s enough built-in Republican support in the Senate for a modest increase to bring a bill to the floor, if GOP and Democratic lawmakers can agree on a figure. That day, a spokesman for the governor acknowledged that Wolf’s proposal is subject to negotiation with the Legislature.

But strong opposition to any increase remains from business groups such as the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, which has said the governor’s plan is “disconnected from reality for many Pennsylvania employers.”

It’s believed that a higher minimum hourly wage would force employers, particularly small businesses, to lay off workers, raise prices, cut back employee hours or scale back employee benefits.

But the states that have adjusted their minimum wage rates higher have not endured catastrophic results.

What seems most important for Pennsylvania is that it balks at a huge initial jump like Wolf proposes.

The idea of a minimum-wage increase has fared well in voter polls, although informed voters understand the possible negative consequences.

Much more “life support” might be necessary, perhaps beyond 2019-20, before a short- or long-term consensus on the issue is reached.

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