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House leadership wants higher minimum wage in WV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- House Democrats are proposing a $1 increase to West Virginia's minimum wage as part of a legislative agenda they say is designed to strengthen families, communities and the state's economy.

"The safety of our families and communities must be the bedrock upon which we build successful communities," said House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison.

House leaders began to unveil the final four planks of their 2014 legislative agenda Monday evening. The agenda is titled "FEED."

"F.E.E.D. is an acronym for Families, Education, Energy, and Developing our economy," Miley said in a press release.

He said leadership would evaluate potential legislation this year by asking the following questions:

* Does it benefit families and communities?

* Does it expand academic opportunities for students and provide support to the educational system?

* Does it bolster the state's energy industry?

* Does it spark economic development in a meaningful way?

Some proposals were aimed at reducing the state's shortage of teachers -- particularly in science, technology, engineering and math fields -- as well as giving schools and law enforcement agencies more resources to tackle problems like truancy and child abuse and exploitation.

However, one proposal will likely come under scrutiny from business groups: raising the  minimum wage.

"In order to provide strong families and communities, every worker must make a living wage to support themselves and their families," leadership wrote in the release .

Officials are proposing an incremental increase of $1 over an 18-month period.

That proposal would raise the minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 an hour -- the current level mandated by the federal government -- to $8.25 by 2016.

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, said in the release that many of his constituents in Southern West Virginia supported the increase. He cited a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that said roughly two-thirds of Americans support increasing the federal minimum wage.

"Momentum is building at the federal and state level to increase hourly base pay," Marcum said. "We should do what we can to ensure a fair wage at the state level."

House Pensions & Retirement Committee vice chairman Ronnie Jones, D-Hancock, said many retirees are forced to supplement their income through minimum wage jobs in order to get by.

"When we talk about the minimum wage, we often think of the young people who are struggling, but there are also a great many older workers out there making those wages," Jones said.

He said the increase would be helpful to both young and old workers.

Del. Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, a farmer and owner of a small greenhouse business, said the wage increase would have only an incremental effect on state businesses.

"Economic projections show that our economy will improve at a rate that will allow businesses to absorb the gradual increase without any negative effects," Manypenny said.

"In fact, by giving workers slightly improved spending power in a responsible manner and helping provide the means for them to stay in West Virginia and work, we believe this measure will accelerate economic growth," he said.

West Virginia's neighboring states, with the exception of Ohio, all use the federal $7.25 an hour baseline for their state minimum wage, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Ohio, which indexes its minimum wage to inflation, raised its hourly minimum rate to $7.95 at the beginning of this year.

In his State of the Union address last year, President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 to tackle growing income inequality across the country.

Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said at the time the change is needed to get low-income workers' inflation-adjusted wages back in line with historic norms.

Boettner said when wages are adjusted for inflation, a typical low-income worker made about 63 cents more on the hour in 1979 than in 2011.

State Chamber of Commerce president Steve Roberts said following the president's speech that he heard from some Chamber members -- particularly in the hotel sector -- who said they would be forced to lay off workers, should the wage mandate pass.

"I believe if the minimum wage goes up, there are people who will lose their job, simply because some employers are barely hanging on," Roberts said last February.

Roberts did not return a Monday evening message seeking comment on the current House plan.

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, also did not return a request for comment on the proposal, nor did a spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office.

The proposals unveiled by House leaders Monday addressed just the first two portions -- families and education -- of their "FEED" agenda.

Officials said they would detail their proposals related to energy and developing the economy on Tuesday.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4836.

 


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