Wolf resuscitates a long-stymied priority: a minimum wage hike

 In this April 14, 2016, file photo, union organizers, students, and supporters for a $15 an hour wage march through the Oakland section Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

In this April 14, 2016, file photo, union organizers, students, and supporters for a $15 an hour wage march through the Oakland section Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Gov. Tom Wolf is taking another stab at an issue that has dogged him since his election: raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage.

The proposal is being introduced by Democrats in the House and Senate.

It would boost the state wage from the $7.25 federal minimum to $12 an hour. After that, it would rise in 50 cent increments until hitting $15 in 2025.

The plan would also apply to tipped workers — a change from Wolf’s previous proposals in his state budgets.

The commonwealth’s current minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.83.

“Tipped workers aren’t making enough, and in some cases, they have to endure harassment or worse just to make a livable wage,” Wolf said. “We’ve got to stop this.”

The Democrats’ plan anticipates savings from getting low-wage workers off state Medicaid — $36 million the year after the plan is enacted, and $119 million the following year. Wolf said they want to put that money toward salaries for home and childcare workers in the Department of Human Services.

That, he said, is a “really good opportunity to make the point that we don’t need taxpayer dollars.”

“Twenty-nine other states have raised their minimum wage,” he added. “If we just do that, we don’t have to have taxpayers pay for this.”

Only four other states — Massachusetts, California, New York, and New Jersey — and Washington D.C. are on track to raise their wage to $15 an hour.

According to 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pennsylvania is home to about 3,415,000 workers who are paid hourly. Of those, approximately 43,000 earned $7.25 an hour and 64,000 earned less.

Altogether, that adds up to 3.1 percent of all hourly paid workers making the minimum wage or less. Nationally, that number is 2.3 percent.

The legislature’s GOP majorities haven’t typically been friendly to wage hike proposals, and that probably won’t change.

A spokesman for House Republicans said at this point in the session, they are still seeing where new members stand.

He added that while the caucus is looking “forward to working with colleagues from both sides of the aisle,” they’re more focused on getting people into existing, higher-paying jobs.

House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler elaborated.

“I don’t believe [we’ll support the proposal],” Cutler said. “I would much rather focus on those jobs which provide family-sustaining wages, such as the trades, such as a lot of the career and technical places that we’ve been working collaboratively on, rather than arbitrarily raising the floor.”

Senate Republican Spokeswoman Jenn Kocher said the caucus is open to a “reasonable discussion” on raising the minimum wage.

But she added, she’s “not sure that this proposal meets the definition of reasonable.”

Any discussion on the minimum wage, Kocher said, must be balanced “with the needs of small employers and their ability to create and sustain jobs in Pennsylvania.”

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