The Lead

A $15 minimum wage in Pennsylvania? That’s a non-starter, says top Pa. Senate Republican

By: - February 25, 2019 3:08 pm

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman addresses the Pennsylvania Press Club. (Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison)

A proposal to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage may be getting more traction this year, but a top Republican state senator said Monday it will suffer a predictable fate if Gov. Tom Wolf doesn’t accept a lower number.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, roundly praised Wolf’s 2019-20 budget proposal at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon Monday. But the governor’s proposal to hike the state’s minimum wage could be a sore point in budget negotiations, he said.

Corman called Wolf’s proposal to raise the base wage to $12 this June and to $15 by 2025 too dramatic. He declined to say exactly which minimum wage rate he would support.

Pennsylvania’s current minimum wage is $7.25.

Corman told reporters a “modest increase” in the base wage “could be something we could talk about.”

“I think most people understand there’s a need there,” he said, “[but] it’s a matter of arriving at a number that the governor and Senate Democrats can agree on.”

Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have all increased their minimum wage in recent years. Since 2013, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York have all set their minimum wages at between $8.60 and $10.40 per hour.

Wolf has proposed a minimum wage hike every year since he took office in 2015. This year, however, the proposal is getting more attention among General Assembly members than ever before. It has dominated committee hearings and press events in the three weeks since Wolf’s budget address.

But Corman on Monday rejected the idea that that this year’s minimum wage debate would be any different than those in the past.

He said Wolf’s commitment to a $15 minimum wage had stalled negotiations before. The same thing is likely to happen again this year, he said, unless Wolf can compromise on a lower rate with the Republican-dominated legislature.

House Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor, R-York, agreed, saying Monday afternoon that “$12 is off the table” but that House Republicans “were open to a discussion” on increasing the minimum wage.

A spokesperson for Wolf could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

Corman also expressed skepticism at the governor’s proposal to raise minimum pay for teachers across the state.

Wolf’s call to pay all teachers in Pennsylvania at least $45,000 has been roundly praised by education and labor advocates.

If the General Assembly approves the measure, the state would provide nearly $14 million to districts that do not have a starting salary of $45,000 per year. Nearly 200 of Pennsylvania’s school districts currently fall short of that threshold, according to Department of Education data.

But Corman said Monday that the government shouldn’t interfere in collective bargaining agreements brokered between teachers unions and school districts.

“I’m very hesitant to get involved in contract negotiations,” Corman said. “For us to artificially throw in a minimum wage that affects other salary steps and collective bargaining, to get involved in collective bargaining and to jump in arbitrarily … I’d have to be convinced, and I’m not there yet.”

Other lawmakers have expressed concerns about the hidden costs of the fully funded mandate Wolf proposed.

Senate Education Committee chair Ryan Aument told the Capital-Star that the proposal could drive up personnel costs for districts.

“If you are raising the floor, it is fair to assume it will raise all the teacher salaries,” Aument, R-Lancaster, said. “And those costs will be borne by districts.”

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.