Capitol Alert

Minimum wage boost hangs over California budget negotiations

A good representation of the general public was on hand to listen and comment on the minimum wage item on Oct. 13, 2015, at the Sacramento City Council meeting.
A good representation of the general public was on hand to listen and comment on the minimum wage item on Oct. 13, 2015, at the Sacramento City Council meeting. jvillegas@sacbee.com

They haven’t yet acquired enough signatures to go before voters, but ballot initiatives to bump California’s minimum wage to $15 figured into early discussions of the state budget proposal unveiled Thursday.

Organized labor groups across the country have focused their energy on the push for a $15 wage, and union outfits in California are gathering signatures to place different initiatives on the 2016 ballot.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal predicted the $15 level would cost the state more than $4 billion by 2021 and open deficits, mainly to cover increases to in-home health care workers and those who work with developmentally disabled people. He called raising the wage “a noble goal” but said any increase must happen incrementally and contain “off-ramps in case the economy is experiencing a recession.” A bill Brown signed bumping the wage to its current $10 level has already cost California more than $250 million annually, his budget plan said.

“I think raising the minimum wage can be good, but it has to be done very carefully, and it has to be done over time,” Brown said at a press conference. “It has to take into account recessions. It has to take into account what other programs can be cut to finance it, or what taxes are going to be generated to pay for it, so it’s not a free good. It does cost funds.”

I think raising the minimum wage can be good, but it has to be done very carefully, and it has to be done over time.

Gov. Jerry Brown

The possibility of a higher minimum wage has already informed budget negotiations, said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, who backs the $15 wage. She argued lawmakers should set aside the money in the state budget to pay for it.

“We know the $15 minimum wage is out there, it’s going to be a ballot measure possibly,” Atkins told reporters after Brown’s press conference. “I think the state, in terms of planning to cover those costs, it’s prudent for us to have that conversation.”

A spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which is pursuing one of the two ballot initiatives, said Brown’s office has not reached out about a possible minimum wage deal. But the spokesman said their proposal, which would bump the minimum wage a dollar a year starting in 2017, would give government and business enough time to adjust.

“We just think it’s the right and fair thing for the state to do, and frankly if we don’t do it when we’re in good times we’re never going to do it,” spokesman Steve Trossman said. “Clearly if you’re paying people more it’s going to cost you more, but we feel the general fund over time can absorb that.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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