Wolf budget proposal calls for $12 minimum wage


The Times Tribune

 

February 8, 2017 - By Jon O'Connell

Gov. Tom Wolf has been urging lawmakers to raise the minimum wage since his campaign days. On Tuesday, he took matters into his own hands.

His 2017-18 executive budget proposal calls for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $12 an hour.

Advocates say the two-thirds increase would make it easier for families to earn life-sustaining pay.

Critics say it will force business owners to slash staff rosters or raise prices.

“I love when my employees are making more money. They’re more well-off. They’re happier,” said Joe Fasula, owner of Scranton-based Gerrity’s Supermarkets. “But the issue is that any increase in wages has to be offset by prices.”

Grocers industry-wide operate on a 1 percent to 2 percent margin, he said, and even a 10 percent payroll increase could wipe that out.

Pennsylvania last raised its minimum wage in 2009, in step with the federal standard.

Tried before

In March, Gov. Wolf urged the legislature to raise it to $10.15, but repeated pleas from his office have failed to gain traction.

In his Tuesday budget proposal, Gov. Wolf estimated raising wages would bolster state revenue by about $95 million.

State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-121, Wilkes-Barre, said higher wages could give relief to those working full-time plus second and third jobs.

In many cases, companies have been raising wages to attract higher-caliber workers.

Recent employment numbers from the state Department of Labor and Industry show Northeast Pennsylvania’s labor force is shrinking, which could push wages higher as companies compete for talent.

Full-time employees at Gerrity’s start at $9 per hour. Only part-time employees who start with no experience in supermarkets make minimum wage, Mr. Fasula said.

‘Wage slavery’

Families might be able to climb just beyond the federal poverty limit if wages reach $12 an hour, said Alex Lotorto, a union delegate with the Industrial Workers of the World, Northeast Pennsylvania chapter, quoting numbers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

“Every neighboring state has increased their minimum wage, but Pennsylvania lingers in wage slavery at $7.25 per hour,” he said.

It’s too early to tell whether the governor’s proposal is too high or too fast, said Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-34, Centre County.

“We are taking all the parts and pieces of the budget and digesting them and (studying) how they fit together — what the impact of raising the minimum wage would be on employers, while at the same time, what are the other areas that might be benefiting them,” she said.

JEFF HORVATH, staff writer, contributed to this report.