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Minimum wage hike moves closer

The latest move would hike the minimum to $14.75

PARIS ACHEN - Demonstrators chant for higher wages and rent control outside Gov. Kate Brown's office during a floor debate on minimum wage in the House of Representatives.A three-tier minimum wage plan cleared its last hurdle on Feb. 18 when the House of Representatives approved the measure 32-26.

Gov. Kate Brown said she plans to sign the bill, which the Senate approved last week.

“Today’s action advances one of my priorities for 2016: raise the minimum wage,” Brown said in a statement on Feb. 18.

But the plan hasn’t gone over well with some area business owners, who say it will negatively impact their businesses.

The plan increases wages to $14.75 in the Portland metro area, $12.50 in rural and coastal areas with struggling economies, and $13.50 in the rest of the state by 2022.

The first pay bump starts in July, raising the minimum wage from $9.25 to $9.75 statewide.

“Thousands of working families are in poverty,” Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene. “They can’t make ends meet. We have the opportunity to address this issue, which hasn’t been addressed in 25 years. It is time for us as a state to do everything we can to help the needy. This is another tool to make that happen.”

The controversial measure has stirred fears that the increase could threaten the survival of the state’s small businesses.

Steve DeAngelo, president of DeAngelo’s Catering in downtown Tigard, said that he feared that the increase in wages would negatively impact his business.

“I am all for living wage jobs,” he wrote in an email on Tuesday. “(But) I am concerned about rising costs to cover these new expenses in our industry. Short-term, fear revolves around the necessity to raise prices, cut hours, or simply shut down.”

DeAngelo said that his business relies on cheap labor.

“Being in the food service sector, we employ students, youth and entry level positions at peak times,” he said. “In most instances, these individual have little (or) no work experience and are basically unskilled. I would have liked to see a category for these individuals carved out for entry level positions. Unfortunately, as this gets implemented, I foresee less jobs available for this important aspect of the workforce, forcing employers to find skilled qualified labor.”

Alexandra Carney owns Zoup restaurants in Beaverton and Wilsonville. She said her restaurants will likely raise their prices.

“Our restaurant business would have to raise their rates making it harder for seniors and fixed income to go out to eat,” she said. “Instead of working harder to get a raise, I feel that many youth would just job-jump, which would inhibit continuity in a business.”

Supporters of a ballot initiative to raise wages to $15 in the next three years said the legislative plan is too slow to give raises given skyrocketing costs. They said they have yet to decide whether to pursue placing the initiative on the 2016 ballot. They are continuing to gather signatures but plan to meet in the next couple of weeks to discuss whether there is enough support and resources for the ballot measure to succeed, said Justin Norton-Kertson, campaign manager for Oregonians for $15 Now.

“We think this bill is grossly inadequate,” Norton-Kertson said.

The halls of the Oregon Capitol echoed with fury while the House debated the legislation.

Demonstrators supporting the $15 Now ballot initiative repeatedly disrupted the debate.

First, demonstrators filled the gallery of the House before House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, ordered them to be removed for displaying signs and interrupting Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass, during a floor speech.

Then, the demonstrators assembled in front of Gov. Kate Brown’s office, located between the House and Senate chambers, and chanted slogans demanding higher wages and affordable housing.

A flier distributed around the demonstration indicated participants came from 15 Now, Portland Tenants United and several other groups.

Later, the demonstrators started pounding on the doors of the House chamber. Legislators in the back of the chamber said they couldn’t hear the debate, and some expressed concern for their safety.

The debate stopped for about 20 minutes until demonstrators quieted down.

During more than five hours of debate last week, the House rejected proposals by Republicans to send the proposal to the ballot.

“Let the 2.2 million voters decide what is best for Oregonians and for themselves,” said Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City.

Lawmakers also rejected a proposal by Republicans to send the measure to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means for a fiscal analysis.

The legislative fiscal office has said the total cost of the bill to state government is indeterminate because the plan is phased in and it’s unknown how many wages will be affected each year.

“The decision by the majority party to bypass our budget committee in favor of an expedited approach to passing this bill is nearly unprecedented,” said Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner. “We owe it to Oregonians to fully vet this proposal, figure out what it is going to cost taxpayers and make sure we have a plan for addressing those costs.”

Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, said raising the wage also would save revenue because fewer people would need public assistance.

The minimum gradually would climb to $14.75 in 2022 within the Portland urban growth boundary, which includes parts of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. It will rise to $13.50 in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Deschutes, Hood River, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, Wasco and Yamhill counties, and parts of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties outside Portland’s urban growth boundary.

In rural areas, the minimum would increase to $12.50. Those areas include Malheur, Lake, Harney, Wheeler, Sherman, Gilliam, Wallowa, Grant, Jefferson, Baker, Union, Crook, Klamath, Douglas, Coos, Curry, Umatilla and Morrow counties.