A $9.50 minimum wage by 2022? The Pa. Senate just passed it. Now it’s up to the House.

By: - November 20, 2019 5:53 pm

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman offers a response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2019-20 budget proposal. (Screenshot from Capital-Star video)

For the first time in more than a decade, a Pennsylvania legislative chamber has voted to increase the state’s minimum wage — this time from the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour to $9.50.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, passed 42-7. Every Democrat and the majority of Republicans supported the bill. All seven “No” votes came from central Pennsylvania Republicans.

“Any increase is a step in the right direction,” Tartaglione said during floor debate, adding: “But as we look to the future, much, much, much, more must be done.”

The increase will not take place overnight. The wage will increase to $8 an hour on July 1, 2020, and then gradually increase to $9.50 by January 1, 2022.

The increase also will not apply to tipped workers, such as wait staff at restaurants.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, made an increase a key priority of his second term. He found traction with business groups hoping to forestall an overtime regulation, and with the Senate’s Republican majority, who’ve shown a greater willingness to play ball Wolf.

“The hard part isn’t the actual negotiations,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said of the compromise. “The hard part is then, after you do have an agreement…saying ‘this is what we agreed to.'”

“Everyone thinks you should have got more.”

The $9.50 compromise approved Wednesday falls short of the hike that Wolf had originally sought. He spent months pushing for an initial increase to $12 an hour that would rise to $15 an hour by 2025.

Wolf meanwhile will hold off on a rule to expand overtime eligibility that would have bumped up take-home pay for tens of thousands of low-level managers.

The state’s overtime regulations will now match federal rules, which are increasing, but less dramatically than Wolf proposed.

House Republicans have yet to indicate that they’d support the wage hike, however.

The caucus has some moderate members, especially from the Philadelphia suburbs, who’d support an increase and like to see the long-running debate ended. But ideological opposition also runs deep with more conservative lawmakers.

The earliest the proposal could get a final House vote will be next month.

House Democrats cautioned after the Senate vote that for minimum wage supporters, the fight was still just beginning.

“There’s no time to rest,” Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, said. “There’s no commitment that the House will pass this, so we gotta go hard.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, told the Capital-Star that Republicans would likely discuss the matter Thursday. As of right now, Saylor said the increase could be approved, but Republicans would want to see more pro-business wins in return before signing off.

He added that the current deal, in which Wolf agreed to withdraw the overtime regulations, seemed like “being blackmailed by the governor.”

Democrats have mostly presented a united front supporting any bump in the minimum wage, citing the good to many of a $2.25 raise.

According to estimates from the progressive Economic Policy Institute, the increase will impact 609,000 workers directly and indirectly, and increase incomes by nearly $500 million.

But unions had expressed some disappointment that Wolf didn’t negotiate for more.

One top priority, cited by Pennsylvania  AFL-CIO chief Rick Bloomingdale, was ending the state’s preemption of municipalities passing their own minimum wage hikes. Such a measure was added to the last bill minimum wage increase to pass the General Assembly in 2006.

Others have placed the blame squarely on the Republican majorities Wolf was negotiating with — and promised to take further action if Democrats win a legislative majority in 2020.

“Should it pass, this deal cannot be an excuse for the General Assembly to go another 13 years without lifting wages for Pennsylvanians,” the state council of the Service Employees International Union said in a statement this week. “We know that the only way to achieve victory is to elect a legislature that stands on the side of working people.”

*This story was updated to reflect revised numbers from the Economic Policy Institute.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.