The Senate Workforce and General Government Committee set to vote on plan that would hike minimum to $14.50 in Portland by 2022.

SALEM — Legislators have returned to a proposal that would set three minimum wage rates in the state based on median income and cost of living.

The proposal by Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, would hike 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 Senate Workforce and General Government Committee, which Dembrow chairs, is expected to vote on the proposal Friday after a brief public hearing at the Capitol.

Leaders in the House and Senate have made minimum wage a priority for the 35-day legislative session, which started Feb. 1. They're hoping that legislative action will stave off ballot initiatives that would raise the minimum to $15 or $13.50 in a three-year period and lift a ban on cities setting higher wages.

Another proposal by Gov. Kate Brown grabbed the limelight last month but was discarded after lawmakers heard outcry from constituents in Eastern Oregon that the governor’s minimums were too high for that region of the state.

Brown’s proposal would raise the minimum from $9.25 to $14.50 in the Portland metro area and to $13.25 in the rest of the state by 2022.

“We heard a lot of concern about some of those frontier parts of the state that they were going to have a particularly hard time accommodating those increases,” Dembrow said. “Some preferred their counties to be excluded completely from an increase in minimum wage. That is, to me, just not acceptable. There are workers in those counties that need a raise.”

Under Dembrow’s proposalplan, wages would increase statewide to $9.75 in July 2016 and rise gradually from there until 2022 according to region.

The lowest rate of $12.50 would apply to the following counties: Baker, Coos, Crook, Curry, Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa and Wheeler.

Ron Vernini, mayor of Ontario, said his city fails to attract businesses because companies prefer to go to nearby Idaho where wages are lower.

Raising the minimum could “in many cases destroy jobs in communities that now are struggling to keep from going deeper into the spiral of poverty,” he wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Senators have pitched various amendments to Dembrow’s proposal. It was unclear Thursday if any of those would receive consideration Friday.

One by Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, would exclude agricultural workers from the wage increase.

Many farmers have spoken out against a minimum wage increase, saying it would force them to make cuts to employees.

Trevor Frahm, who owns a farm in Nyssa, said a $1 increase in the minimum would force him to eliminate a few of his 20 employees.

“A three- to five-dollar increase would force me to move my facility to Idaho, which is only three miles away,” Frahm said.

Surveys indicate most people in Portland, where housing costs have skyrocketed, support a hike in the minimum.

Patti Whitney-Wise of Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon in Portland said families need an increase just to meet basic needs.

Dembrow’s wage plan is based on data from Portland State University and the University of Washington that shows what income is required to be self-sufficient in different counties in Oregon.

“We are one state, and yet we are not one state,” Dembrow said.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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