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Minimum wage bill headed to House floor

House Committee on Business and Labor recommends passage

TRIBUNE ILLUSTRATION - Lawmakers could vote this week on a three-level minimum wage system for the state.SALEM — A controversial proposal to set three regional minimum wage rates in Oregon is headed for a vote by the House of Representatives.

After holding a three-hour public hearing, the House Business and Labor Committee voted 6 to 5 Monday to recommend passage of the bill. The vote was along party lines. Republicans said they plan to offer a minority report and alternative to the proposal on the House floor, where the bill could be presented as early as Thursday, Feb. 18.

“I think what you have before you in this particular legislation is a policy decision and that is whether we expect that Oregonians who are working fulltime should be living in poverty,” Gov. Kate Brown told lawmakers Monday. “The answer for me is no.”

The Senate approved the measure 16 to 12 Feb. 11, also largely along party lines.

The bill hikes wages from $9.25 to $14.75 in the Portland area, $12.50 in rural and coastal areas with struggling economies, and $13.50 in the rest of the state by 2022. The rates are based on median income and cost of living in those regions and what it takes to be “self-sufficient” — to pay basic expenses such as food, housing and transportation, said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, who proposed the measure.

Rep. Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill, moved to amend the bill to slow its effective date and to allow Oregonians to vote on the measure, but the committee defeated the motion 6 to 5. He also moved to send the bill for review by the Joint Committee on Ways and Means to determine how the measure would impact state and county budgets in future years.

Weidner said the bill would drive costs up for businesses and drive businesses to Washington and Idaho.

Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, co-chairman of Ways and Means and vice chairman of the business and labor committee, said such a review would be limited to the current budget and not future budgets. He said referring the bill to Ways and Means would delay the bill but would not necessarily provide any additional information.

“I find it amusing that we are essentially saying we don’t know yet the full impact on this and because it isn’t going to have a big impact on this budget we are just going to ramrod it through,” said Rep. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg.

Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, said studies conflict on the impact of minimum wage hikes. He said the state has failed to reform the tax system to help income inequality and one of the only other ways to address the problem is raising the minimum wage.

Regional economic differences

Brown said Monday she supports the proposal because it “takes into account the economic reality in Oregon that some areas are growing faster than others.”

“It also gives businesses the time and certainty to prepare to implement a new minimum wage, and although the increase is phased in gradually, the increase starts right away giving hardworking Oregonians a much-needed boost,” Brown said in prepared comments she read to committee members. “Finally, it offers a middle ground between nothing and two problematic ballot measures that expedite increases with absolutely no accommodation for regional economic differences.”

Her comments refer to initiatives that would hike minimum wage to $13.50 and $15 per hour within three years and would lift a ban on cities and counties setting higher wages.

“We heard from a lot of business people who felt that would be really disruptive for them because it would be hard for them to predict when the next increase would come,” Dembrow said. “What they valued was predictability.”

The proposal hikes wages beginning in July from $9.25 to $9.75 statewide.

The minimum gradually would climb to $14.75 in 2022 in 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.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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