A proposal circulating in the Oregon House of Representatives would increase the state’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2018 and allow local governments the opportunity to increase their own village, town and city wages if they choose to do so.
The state’s House Speaker, Democrat Tina Kotek of Portland, first announced the minimum wage hike proposal to the public last week, and then elaborated on the details of the measure to reporters on Monday, prior to a hearing set for today with the House Rules Committee, The East Oregonian reports. The measure would be in the form of an amendment to House Bill 2012.
As expected, small businesses are objecting to the wage hike, saying it will force business owners to lay off employees, halt hiring in a time of continuing economic uncertainty, and possibly close down their businesses. Currently, Oregon's minimum wage is $9.25 per hour, the second highest state rate in the country. However, the state currently bans local governments from increasing their minimum wage rates above the state rate of $9.25.
This makes it particularly difficult for residents of cities like Portland, where the cost of living is higher than in other parts of Oregon. In fact, over the past year, Portland's median rent has increased 7.2 percent, Forbes reported in February.
State Rep. Kotek aims to alleviate this financial burden with her proposed minimum wage hike.
“There is no perfect number, but if we can make sure that people are living about the federal poverty level when they work full time, we can make sure they have enough to meet their basic necessities, and we will have done our job,” Kotek said last week when she first unveiled her proposal.
However, Kotek has admitted that the president of the state Senate, Democrat Peter Courtney of Salem, has been resistant to discussing a minimum wage hike. While Kotek and state Sen. Courtney are of the same party, their constituencies are much different -- Portland is the state’s most populated area and one of the most liberal cities in the nation, while Salem is more moderate and tends to vote Republican.
Kotek’s amendment would increase the minimum wage in the state incrementally to $11 next year, $12 in 2017, and $13 in 2018, KPTV reports. For future wage hikes, the Consumer Price Index would be linked to the state’s finances, meaning wages would correlate with the rise of inflation. Under the proposed legislation, the statewide ban on local governments setting their own minimum wage rate, which has been in place since 2001, would also be lifted. Thus cities and counties would be free to increase their wage rates even more.
Other major West Coast cities have led the charge in raising the minimum wage. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have already raised their city wages to $15 an hour.
Kotek expressed support for Portland to do the same, but noted the difficulties in doing so.
“I know that is where we should try to get to in Portland, but that getting to $15 an hour is difficult in some parts of this state," she said. "So from position as speaker, I am trying to say that from a statewide perspective, this is what is reasonable and try to help everyone -- but not neglect the fact that it is more costly to live in Portland."