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Revised wage bill is best option yet

A minimum-wage bill now before the state Legislature looks like a compromise most businesses can live with — but one that also makes progress in hiking wages for Oregon’s lowest-income workers.

We do have concerns about Oregon jumping out in front of the rest of the nation to approve dramatic minimum-wage increases. The possibility of lost jobs, due to higher costs for businesses, is real. However, there’s little doubt voters will support a higher minimum wage if the opportunity is placed before them via initiative petition in November.

A legislative solution is preferable to a ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage too quickly and too far. That’s why the latest proposal, written by Democratic Sen. Michael Dembrow of Portland, provides the best vehicle for Oregon to avoid a nasty ballot battle that could harm Oregon’s business climate.

Unlike a proposal by Gov. Kate Brown that would create a two-tier minimum wage in the state, Dembrow advocates a more-sensible three-tier system.

Brown would draw a hard line around the Portland metro area, making businesses and other employers within that boundary pay more, while employers in the rest of the state pay less.

Dembrow’s plan, in contrast, recognizes that cities such as Bend, Corvallis, Eugene and Ashland are not economically similar to rural Oregon.

Dembrow’s legislation also shows some sensitivity to businesses, which would have six years to phase in the new minimums. Plus, the top rate of $14.75 per hour in the metro area — which wouldn’t be implemented until 2022 — is lower than some of the more extreme proposals.

Many business people still will have legitimate objections to the new minimums. However, Dembrow’s compromise should avert a worse alternative while giving employers time to plan.

The Legislature should support Dembrow’s approach and resolve the minimum-wage issue without a ballot fight in November.