$50 gift cards at center of press release sparring over Capitol minimum wage rally

By: - June 4, 2019 3:16 pm

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A progressive think tank hit back Tuesday against accusations that it provided a “bought and paid for” audience for a rally calling for a higher minimum wage, after it offered some attendees a $50 gift card or a free bus trip to help defray travel expenses.

The sparring between the Pennsylvania Republican Party and the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is another sign of the high political stakes surrounding the debate over whether to raise Pennsylvania’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage in the three-plus weeks that remain before lawmakers and the Democratic Wolf administration have to approve a new state budget.

Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for the statewide GOP, opened the feud mid-morning on Tuesday, dismissing the Budget and Policy Center as “a dark money-funded liberal ‘policy’ group,'” whose tactics are a “prime example of people making a lot of noise, but their causes not having a lot of support.”

“Maybe if the left’s policy proposals were not so out of touch and disastrous, they’d be able to draw attendance at their advocacy days without compensation,” Gottesman said in an emailed statement to news outlets.

Screen capture from the Pa. Budget & Policy Center website

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed raising the $7.25 an hour minimum to $12 an hour by July, and then, in increments, to $15 an hour, by 2025.

If approved, it would mark the first time that the state’s minimum has been raised in a decade. Like 31 other states, Pennsylvania’s base wage is tied to the federal minimum. All six of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have higher minimum wages. Legislative Republicans have rejected the $12 an hour wage proposal, but have signaled that they might be open to some incremental increase.

Nearly 7 in 10 registered voters who responded to a March 28 Franklin & Marshall College poll said they “strongly” (47 percent) or somewhat (22 percent) favored raising the wage to $12 an hour. More than 40 percent of Republican respondents (44 percent) opposed a minimum wage hike. Support ran stronger among Democratic (88 percent) and independent respondents (74 percent).

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, the progressive think tank’s director, Marc Stier, pointed out that corporate interests that oppose the wage, and other worker-friendly reforms, routinely deploy legions of highly paid lobbyists to advance their clients’ agenda.

Those same lobbyists “no doubt get their mileage and meals paid for when they are at the Capitol,” while the working Pennsylvanians who attended aren’t quite so lucky.

“Because the Pennsylvania Legislature hasn’t raised the minimum wage for 13 years, low-wage workers can’t afford the tank of gas to come talk to their own legislators in Harrisburg,” Stier said in an email. “A gift card to cover part of their travel is the least we can do to help them exercise their rights as citizens.”

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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.