State With Highest Minimum Wage May Raise It Even Higher

03/05/2015 08:23 pm ET | Updated Mar 05, 2015

Washington state, which already has the nation's highest minimum wage, is considering raising it even higher.

Democratic state lawmakers are advancing a bill that would hike the wage floor to $12 per hour over four years. The state House on Tuesday approved the legislation 51-46 to increase the hourly minimum wage from the current $9.47 to $12 by 2019. Only Democrats voted in favor of the legislation.

Washington is one of 29 states and a growing number of cities with minimum wage rates higher than the federal base of $7.25.

In 2014, voters in historically red Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota approved minimum wage raises. Voters in San Francisco, with one of the highest minimum wages in the nation, passed a proposition to increase the wage floor to $15 by 2018, following a similar move by Seattle. The minimum wage in Oakland, California, jumped this week to $12.75 from $9.

Workers in Ohio are rallying for a state increase to $10.10 an hour. Maine lawmakers have submitted eight bills proposing a minimum wage hike. And workers in Hartford, Connecticut, are calling for a raise to the tipped minimum wage there.

Washington House Democrats, according to The Spokesman-Review, said increased wages would give minimum-wage workers a chance to pull themselves out of poverty while boosting to the state economy.

“This really is about strengthening the middle class,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D). “It’s about making our communities stronger.”

Rep. Matt Manweller (R), the assistant minority floor leader, focused on supply and demand during a House floor debate that lasted almost two hours. He argued that employers will cut jobs if wages rise.

“If the price of labor goes up, I’ve been told repeatedly today that people will buy just as much of it,” Manweller said. “Or is it, Mr. Speaker, that labor stands alone as the only good on the planet that is absolutely inelastic? Because that’s what I’ve heard today -- you can raise the price of labor and people will hire the same amount. Well, if that’s the case Mr. Speaker, let’s raise the minimum wage to 50 bucks.”

Most polls show the public supports a higher minimum wage.

Working Washington, an advocacy group, posted a video earlier this week of low-income workers from Manweller’s district responding to comments the representative has made on minimum wage in the past, according to The Daily Record.

“Representatives like Matt Manweller of Ellensburg may rant in nonsensical disagreement over the value of higher pay, but his constituents in Ellensburg and people across Washington state and across the country know that higher pay is good for workers, good for communities, and good for the whole economy,” the group said in press release. “That's why a $15 minimum wage wins support from 63% of voters nationally.”

Under the Democratic proposal, the minimum wage in Washington would rise to $10 in 2016, $10.50 in 2017, $11 in 2018 and $12 in 2019. It would increase with inflation after that.

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