With the Fight for $15 in a holding pattern, do two new bills point the way to a deal? | Thursday Morning Coffee

March 25, 2021 7:09 am

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If the fight to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage was an airplane, it’d be a commuter jet, filled with increasingly cranky tourists, caught in a permanent holding pattern over LaGuardia, the spires of New York City right outside the window, but still frustratingly out of reach.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and his allies in the General Assembly have spent the last few years trying to raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour, where it’s sat since 2009, to $12 and then $15 an hour. The latest plan calls for that final hike happening by 2025. As ever, Republicans who control the General Assembly and their allies in the business community remain resolutely uninterested.

So, with snacks running low, the beverage cart locked down in the back, and with me rapidly running out of plane jokes, one Philadelphia lawmaker is looking for another way to bring a wage hike in for a landing.

As he did last legislative session, state Rep. Kevin Boyle, of Philadelphia, has reintroduced a bill giving municipalities the authority to raise the wage on their own.

“No one should be working 40 hours or more a week and still be unable to pay their bills, feed their family or make ends meet,” Boyle said in a statement. “But our failure to act in the legislature has put too many people who have a family to support in this predicament.

The bill would allow municipal governments, such as Philadelphia, who know their own constituencies best, to set their own wages, Boyle said, noting that such factors vary widely across the state.

“My legislation would put the power in the hands of the local governments to adjust their minimum wage based on factors that affect people in their communities,” he said.

Knowing how Republicans feel about local governments trying to preempt state lawBoyle’s bill appears guaranteed to face an uphill battle in the majority-GOP General Assembly.

An SEIU activist rallies for a $15/hr. minimum wage, which was one of the policies that F&M researchers polled in their most recent public opinion survey. (Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr Commons)

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Dan Laughlin, an Erie Republican who’s mulling a possible 2022 gubernatorial run, said that he’s crafting legislation that would hike the wage to $10 an hour, according to the Center Square, which broke the story. The state’s tipped wage would rise from $2.83 to $5, the Center Square reported. Future hikes would be tied to inflation, the online news org reported.

Laughlin, who’s co-sponsoring his bill with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, noted in a ‘Dear Colleague’ memo that “until 1996, increases in the tipped wage corresponded with increases in the minimum wage. Since that time, Pennsylvania’s tipped wage has remained $2.83 per hour. Today, the value of the tipped wage has depreciated to 39 percent of the minimum wage. This legislation will return that connection between the tipped wage and minimum wage.”

Despite the focus on the $15 wage, progressives and the Wolf administration aren’t exactly saying no to Laughlin’s plan. But they’re not exactly saying yes, either.

“I would never turn down any increase in the minimum wage. People making between $7.25 and a bit more than $10 would benefit from a $10 minimum wage and they really need the money, and as Pennsylvania’s economy needs them to spend more,” Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, said in an email.

But, “$10 is just utterly inadequate,” Stier continued. “It’s far below what the minimum wage has been relative to average or median wages in the past; what Pennsylvania workers need and what the Pennsylvania economy needs. But perhaps this is a start to a real negotiation between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.”

Wolf administration spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger told us in an email that while the governor’s office has not seen Laughlin’s plan, “We are always ready to discuss raising the wage with the legislature, because people who work hard should not have to struggle with poverty wages.

“The pandemic has made raising the minimum wage more crucial than ever as thousands of essential workers are struggling to buy food and avoid homelessness,” Kensinger continued. “The governor has proposed a $12 minimum wage with a path to $15 that would lift the wages of nearly 1 million workers. Other states, including red states like Florida, are on a path to $15 and every Pennsylvania worker earning less should not be left behind.”

We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that Wolf has been down this road with legislative Republicans before. In 2019, the Democrat cut a deal with the Senate GOP to hike the wage to $9.50 an hour, only to see it sink in the House. Getting burned on that deal moved the administration to a more inflexible demand for a $15 an hour wage.

But things are only non-negotiable until they aren’t any more. Politics, in the main, is still the art of the possible.

John L. Micek | Editor

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York
, threw the gauntlet down with schools on Wednesday: Offer in-person classes this fall or risk losing state moneyStephen Caruso has the story.

House and Senate Democrats rallied against AAPI violence Wednesday, as they called for passage for a package of hate crimes bills, your humble newsletter author reports.

Former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine won U.S. Senate confirmation Wednesday to the No. 2 post at the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Servicesbecoming the highest-ranking, out transgender person in the federal government. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson has the story.

Historic sites and museums around the state will reopen on April 30Cassie Miller reports.

LGBTQ groups have mobilized against bill a sponsored by U.S. Rep. Kelly, R-16th Districttargeting same-sex adoptions, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report.

The University of Pittsburgh’s former emergency management director faces a federal indictment for stealing and selling PPE supplies, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, state Rep. Ben Sanchez, D-Montgomery, makes the case for a trio of gun violence-reduction measures that he’s sponsoring with his colleagues. And opinion regular John Tures takes a look at whether the Clinton-era assault weapons ban reduced mass shootings.

(Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

Last year, 2020, was the deadliest year for gun violence in decades, killing nearly 20,000 Americans, the Inquirer reports.
A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court panel has let stand a state law eliminating direct cash assistance to needy Pennsylvanians, PennLive reports.
Allegheny County will launch a new vaccine registration system next week, the Tribune-Review reports.
York County’s mass vaccination site opens today, the York Daily Record reports.
Allentown pols sparred Wednesday over proposed campaign contribution limits in future elections, the Morning Call reports.
Sam Sanguedolce is Luzerne County’s new district attorney, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

SEPTA is hiring 60 security guards for its Market-Frankford line, WHYY-FM reports.
Anti-racism protesters gathered in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section on Wednesday, WESA-FM reports.
Erie officials have started their debate over how to use stimulus cash, GoErie reports (paywall).
Families say an athletics ban would exert a toll on rural transgender youth, reports.
Roll Call homes in on the voting rights fight in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate are both out for the rest of the month. Here’s a look at the day’s committee action in the House (the Senate has no meetings scheduled).
10:30 a.m., 418MC: House Democratic Policy Committee – hearing on racism in high school and college.
12:30 p.m, G50 Irvis: House State Government Committee – public hearing on election matters.

What Goes On.
The state Democratic Party holds a 6 p.m reception. Admission runs $20 to $250.

Heavy Rotation.
It’s always a good day when there’s new Paul Weller music in the world. Here’s ‘Cosmic Fringes.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Winnipeg skated past an increasingly hapless Vancouver 5-1 on Wednesday nightThe Jets finished their sweep of the Canucks with the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.