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Three-tier minimum wage headed to Senate floor

The Senate workforce committee passed a bill Friday that would raise the minimum to $14.75 in Portland by 2022, lower rates in other parts of the state.


PARIS ACHEN - Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, chairman of the Senate Workforce and General Government CommitteeSALEM — A bill to set three different minimum wage rates in the state is headed to the Senate floor next week.

The proposal 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 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, chairman of the Senate Workforce and General Government Committee.

The committee passed the proposal Friday 3-to-2.

“Passing minimum wage is not going to be a silver bullet for problems faced by low-income Oregonians,” Dembrow said.

Dembrow said lawmakers still need to increase the earned income tax credit, address the cost of child care and find ways to increase affordable housing in the state, where prices, particularly in the Portland area, have skyrocketed.

The vote fell along party lines with the committee’s two Republicans, Sens. Tim Knopp of Bend and Kim Thatcher of Keizer, voting no.

“I really feel the impact of this is going to be negative in many ways,” Knopp said. “I think it is going to hurt the people you’re trying to help.”

He said small businesses would take an economic hit and employees would lose jobs.

The Republicans said they plan to write a minority report and offer an amendment to the bill on the Senate floor. The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor Thursday, Dembrow said.

Dembrow authored the bill after months of meeting with stakeholders and consulting research on self-sufficiency thresholds for every county in the state, he said. The bill was intended to offer an alternative to ballot initiatives that would raise the minimum to $15 or $13.50 statewide and would repeal a ban on municipalities and counties from setting a higher wage.

The first pay bump would start in July, increasing the wage 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.

The Legislative Fiscal Office determined that the cost of raising minimum wage for the state and local governments is indeterminate because it's impossible to know how many positions will be affected by the time the increases take effect in the next seven years.

Dembrow’s amendment, first offered Wednesday, nudged out a proposal by Gov. Kate Brown that would have set two minimum wage rates in the state.

No polling has been done in the Senate on Dembrow’s specific proposal, according to Senate President Peter Courtney’s Office. Lindsey O’Brien, spokeswoman for House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said Kotek supports raising minimum wage but is still reviewing the Senate proposal before taking a stance on it.