In its first test since Gov. Jerry Brown and labor leaders announced a deal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, legislation on the issue passed its first committee over Republican and business objections.
A prior attempt to lift the wage floor stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. But the new measure, buoyed by the support of Brown and labor unions who say they will pull ballot measures to boost the wage if the bill passes, advanced on Wednesday. It is scheduled for floor votes Thursday that would send it to Brown’s desk.
This bill will literally lift over 2 million Californians out of poverty.
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco
Democrats and their allies in organized labor praised the measure as a boon to struggling workers. They heard from a college graduate who relayed the difficulty of supporting himself with a job at Burger King.
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“We recognize that we have the largest population of any state in the country living in poverty,” said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who is carrying Senate Bill 3. “This bill will literally lift over 2 million Californians out of poverty because they are working full time today and earning a sub-poverty wage.”
Supporters also argued the bill would protect against economic turbulence by allowing the governor to pause planned increases in the event of a recession. A Department of Finance official backed the measure, noting it would take a $20 million bite out of the state budget in the coming fiscal year and cost about $4 billion annually by the time it is fully implemented.
Business lobbyists, speaking on behalf of groups like the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association, urged lawmakers to reconsider. They warned that, given the unprecedented nature of a $15 minimum wage, the bill amounted to a dangerous social experiment.
The ultimate minimum wage is zero, and that’s what you make if your job no longer exists.
Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake
Republican lawmakers predicted job losses, and said the law would have uneven consequences, noting that wage policies play out very differently in San Francisco than in parts of the state with higher unemployment and lower costs of living.
“Almost invariably, the effect (of raising the minimum wage) is a rise in unemployment,” said Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake. “The ultimate minimum wage is not something we control. The ultimate minimum wage is zero, and that’s what you make if your job no longer exists.”
The panel approved the measure on a 12-7, mostly party-line vote. Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, joined Republicans in opposition.