Pennsylvania GOP lawmaker opens door to minimum wage deal

A woman shouts while marching with service workers asking for $15 minimum wage pay during a rally at Newark Liberty International Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in Newark, N.J. The event was part of the National Day of Action to Fight for $15. The campaign seeks higher hourly wages, including for workers at fast-food restaurants and airports. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

A woman shouts while marching with service workers asking for $15 minimum wage pay during a rally at Newark Liberty International Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in Newark, N.J. The event was part of the National Day of Action to Fight for $15. The campaign seeks higher hourly wages, including for workers at fast-food restaurants and airports. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

A top Republican lawmaker is opening the door to raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, but he also insisted Monday that Democrats lower their sights from a proposal by Gov. Tom Wolf that would give the state among the nation’s highest.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, would not define what he views as a reasonable increase, saying he is trying not to stake out a number that he “can’t negotiate from.”

But he also suggested there is enough built-in Republican support in the Senate for a modest increase to bring a bill to the floor if Republicans and Democrats can agree on a figure.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of vote collecting,” Corman said. “It’s a matter of arriving on a number that both the governor and the Senate Democrats can agree off of that we can too as well.”

Wolf, a Democrat, has sought a minimum wage increase every year he has been governor but gained little traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

In January, Wolf issued a new proposal to raise Pennsylvania’s hourly minimum to $12 this year, making it one of the highest in the nation, with annual 50-cent increases to bring it to $15 an hour in 2025. The value of a $15 minimum wage in 2025 would be about $13 in today’s money, assuming an annual inflation rate of 2 percent.

Corman said that plan is not reasonable or worth discussing.

“I think if we can get down to a more modest increase that doesn’t put us out of lockstep with other states (then that’s) something we can talk about,” Corman said.

A Wolf spokesman said Monday that the governor believes his proposal is fair, but acknowledged that it is subject to negotiation with the Legislature.

Pennsylvania has been at the $7.25 federal minimum since 2009, while most states — including each Pennsylvania neighbor — have raised their minimums.

House Republican leadership is more circumspect about a minimum wage increase.

Still, Republicans are emerging from an election cycle in which they lost seats, primarily in Philadelphia’s moderate suburbs, and GOP leaders are being warned by members there that they will lose more seats in 2020 if they do not move to the middle on things like a minimum wage increase.

Raising the minimum wage tends to be popular in voter polls and Democrats are poised to use it in 2020 as an election-season weapon, as the Democratic party and its presidential candidates coalesce around a $15 minimum wage.

Corman suggested that some Democrats would rather use minimum wage as a campaign weapon against Republicans than compromise.

“It’s like anything else: do you want the issue or do you want it accomplished?” Corman said. “And if we want to get something accomplished, then I think there’s ways we can go about doing it.”

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