February 10, 2015 - By Staff, wire reports
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that passage of a higher minimum wage in Pennsylvania is one of his priorities in the current legislative session.
Wolf said he backs a bill sponsored by Rep. Patty Kim, a Dauphin County Democrat, to boost the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over two years. He made the comment at an impromptu news briefing at a downtown hotel, where he spoke during a closed-door meeting of union leaders sponsored by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.
"A floor on compensation is an important macroeconomic thing," the Democratic governor said. "It makes the market stronger, makes the free market work better."
Wolf said Pennsylvania's minimum wage has not been increased for years.
"I think it's time to do something," he said.
The federal minimum wage has stood at $7.25 an hour since 2009, and President Barack Obama is leading the drive to increase the hourly standard to $10.10.
Wolf's comments come a month after a report was published by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank, that found a higher minimum wage would help close the growing income disparity between the rich and poor.
The study, using tax data from 1917 to 2012, showed that for the first time, all the income gains during the current economic recovery have gone to the top 1 percent earners while the other 99 percent have lost pace with inflation.
The study tracked the income growth for workers in all 50 states between 2009 and 2012. In a few states, such as Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota, middle- and lower-income workers saw moderate wage increases. But in the vast majority, virtually all gains went to the wealthiest workers. West Virginia was the only state where wages went up for the bottom 99 percent more than for the top 1 percent, by a ratio of 6.4 to 5 percent.
Pennsylvania is a prime example. In the Keystone State, the top 1 percent is anyone making more than $354,868, and the average wage of everyone in that bracket is $1.1 million. The average wage of the rest was $43,847.
But getting a higher minimum wage could be a tough sell in the Legislature, where Republicans control both the House and the Senate. The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry has opposed a higher minimum wage, arguing if you raise the cost of labor, it will decrease the number of jobs.
Still Kim is not the only lawmaker proposing a bill to hike the minimum wage. Sen. Lisa Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, has a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years — 39 percent higher than the current rate.
Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, chairman of the chamber's Appropriations Committee, is the highest-ranking Republican to publicly support a minimum wage as high as Tartaglione and Kim have proposed.
Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, has proposed a bill that would raise the minimum wage in 50-cent bumps every three years for a total of $8.75.
In a Morning Call story published Sunday, Browne said going back to the 1930s, government has played a role in working with businesses to ensure workers are fairly compensated. Now that the economy is improving, government needs to keep up that commitment because the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation and other increased costs, he said.
Browne also said a minimum wage increase will be part of legislative budget talks in June.
Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, said he has signed on as a co-sponsor of Kim's bill. More and more families are relying on minimum-wage jobs, either to supplement the income they receive from their main job or by working multiple minimum-wage jobs as their main sources of income, he said.
Freeman said President Franklin D. Roosevelt summed up the minimum-wage debate in 1937, during the Great Depression: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little."