House GOP retaliates against Wolf’s overtime proposal

Rep. Jim Cox, R-Berks, chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee, speaks at a hearing. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Under pressure from Gov. Tom Wolf to increase the state’s $7.25 minimum wage, Pennsylvania House Republicans instead chose to register their anger with the Democratic governor’s attempt to increase eligibility for overtime pay to low income workers.

In a party-line vote, majority Republicans on the House Labor and Industry Committee voted Monday to pass a resolution expressing their opposition to the proposed regulatory move, which would give 143,000 workers who make less $45,500 a year time-and-a-half pay. 

Unless approved by the General Assembly and agreed to by Wolf, the resolution will have no bearing on the state regulatory review panel’s decision at its Jan. 31 meeting. And if the resolution did pass, Wolf would be able to veto it.

But committee Chairman Jim Cox, R-Berks, wanted to make sure that the House Republicans expressed their frustration with both the rule and the proposed minimum wage increase that was tied to it late last year.

The overtime expansion was used as a bargaining chip by Wolf to convince the Republican-controlled Senate to pass a $2.25 minimum wage bump, from the federal minimum to $9.50, by 2022. The proposal passed the Senate 42-7 in November.

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, which matches the federal minimum, is lower than all its neighboring states by at least $1.30 as of Jan. 1, 2019 according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. There has not been a vote to increase it since 2006.

Wolf had originally asked for $15 an hour last year during budget negotiations. The ask was unsuccessful.

While the deal was widely reported, Cox said he had no part in it, and had not been contacted by the Wolf administration to negotiate.

Cox suggested that passing some proposed small business tax cuts that offset increased costs could ease GOP lawmakers’ concerns. 

Speaking to reporters after, Cox and ranking Democratic Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, squabbled over the holdup on a vote.

Harkins pointed out that some Republicans, such as former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum or former state senator and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner backed a wage hike.

“There’s a reason those guys lost,” Cox quipped.

“We’re trying to represent people,” Cox added. “If you’re elected as a Republican or Democrat, you try to represent the values and the concerns that your district asks you to represent. So in some areas, some Republicans may say ‘hey this works for me’ and in others it doesn’t.”

Harkins added he’s heard from “staunch Republicans” it was time to raise the wage. Cox replied, “well, have them move to my district.”

In 2006, Cox’s predecessor, Republican Rep. Sheila Miller, voted in favor of the last minimum wage increase, according to the House Legislative Journal. Cox was first elected later that year.