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The Minimum of the Minimum

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett told Boise Weekly that she expects a 2015 version of a minimum wage measure to resurface, she's hoping that this year's effort can find some bipartisan support.

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A familiar debate is expected to surface in the coming weeks of the 2015 Idaho Legislature: Will Idaho remain at the bottom of the minimum wage ladder while more than 3 million Americans saw their paychecks increase Jan. 1, when 20 states bumped up their pay scale for the nation's lowest paid workers? A majority of states now have a minimum wage higher than the federal government's minimum of $7.25 to which Idaho is tied. The Economic Policy Institute reported that this year's boost will generate $826.8 million in new economic growth.

But opponents insist that boosting Idaho's minimum wage beyond the federal level is a job-killer.

"I'm troubled that we now want to decouple us from the federal wage standard," Idaho Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis told a Senate committee where a bill designed to boost Idaho's minimum wage later died. "Idaho needs to be very careful."

While Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett told Boise Weekly that she expects a 2015 version of a minimum wage measure to resurface, she's hoping that this year's effort can find some bipartisan support.

"It's in the early stages, and I want to make sure that we shop it around so people can make any changes and recognize it's a collaborative effort," Stennett said. "Even to be considered, it would need to be embraced by many more than just me."

In 2014, Stennett proposed that Idaho's current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour be raised incrementally, with the first increase, to $8.50, within six months. Meanwhile, neighboring Washington state saw its minimum wage rise to $9.47 this month, while Oregon raised its minimum wage to $9.25.

"I'm very sensitive that Idaho isn't going to jump to Washington's rate; that's not realistic," Stennett said, adding that some small businesses might push back against the increase. "But this is part of a larger conversation. Instead of bringing in employers who only pay the minimum, we should be offering something that encourages better-paying jobs. This is much more than just changing the minimum wage. It's about doing better economically. At some point, the chain has to be broken."