Wolf renews call for $15/hr. minimum wage. GOP isn’t interested

Gov. Tom Wolf calls on state lawmakers to boost Pennsylvania's $7.25/hr. minimum wage (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Setting the stage for a likely budget battle to come, Gov. Tom Wolf renewed his call Tuesday for a $15 an hour minimum wage, calling the state’s failure to keep pace with its neighbors an “embarrassment” that’s causing Pennsylvanians to pursue work in other states.

“It’s past time to raise the minimum wage,” Wolf said during a Capitol news conference, where he was flanked by lawmakers, labor activists, and at least two people who said they and their families would benefit from a wage hike.

Pennsylvania hasn’t raised its state minimum, now $7.25 an hour and tied to the federal minimum wage, since 2006. Wolf told the crowd that he plans to include his proposed increase in the annual budget address that he’ll deliver to a joint session of the state House and Senate next week.

The plan is a repeat of Wolf’s proposal last year to raise the wage to $12/hr., then, in increments to $15/hr., with future increases tied to inflation.

A compromise plan to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, approved by the majority-Republican Senate last November, has failed to garner a vote in the GOP-majority state House.

On Tuesday, Wolf declared that compromise dead, and said he’s renewing his push to expand overtime rules that would help some lower-wage managers make time-and-a-half. Wolf had earlier agreed to give up on that push as a condition for netting the $9.50 minimum.

A state regulatory review panel is slated to meet Friday to take action on the rule change.

Striking a more combative tone Tuesday, the York County Democrat appeared disinclined toward further compromise.

“I’m not sure how anybody can resurrect the deal that should have been done last December,” Wolf told reporters after the event.

In a statement, House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, gave a thumbs-down to Wolf’s plan, saying it would “result in job losses across the employment spectrum. We stand committed to helping Pennsylvanians earn as much as possible, but not if it means losing the very jobs workers rely upon.”

Two of Wolf’s legislative allies, state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, and Christine M. Tartaglione, who have respectively pushed the wage hike in the state House and Senate, mirrored Wolf’s tone.

Comparing the wage hike to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Kim accused House Republicans of treating the wage hike like a “back of the bus issue.”

“We’re not going to let workers sit in the back of the bus anymore,” she said.

And Tartaglione, while acknowledging the currently bustling economy, pointed out that not everyone has shared in that prosperity.

“This economy may be working for some people, but it’s not working for most of us,” she said.

Twenty-one states, including four Pennsylvania’s neighboring states, began 2020 with a higher minimum wage, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seven of those states automatically increased their wages, based on cost of living increases. Fourteen boosted their state minimums through previously approved legislation or ballot measures.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press