OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he wants to increase Washington’s minimum wage — already the highest in the nation — to $10.82 to $11.82 an hour.
But that would not be good for agriculture, said one of Inslee’s backers, Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League in Yakima.
In his first State of the State address, Jan. 14, Inslee, a Democrat, called for an increase in the minimum wage, $200 million more in education funding and more transportation spending.
“Too many Washingtonians struggle,” he said. “There are thousands of working moms and dads with full-time jobs — sometimes two or three jobs — who some days cannot afford to put adequate food on the table. That’s why today, I’m calling for a statewide increase in the minimum wage.”
An increase won’t remedy “50 years of income inequality,” but something in the range of $1.50 to $2.50 per hour more would be a step toward closing a “widening economic gap,” he said.
“There’s ample evidence that a raise in that range does not kill jobs. An increase in minimum wage means more money being spent in our economy,” Inslee said. At $9.32 an hour, Washington’s minimum wage is already the highest in the nation and automatically increases each year at the rate of inflation.
A higher minimum wage would increase production costs for agriculture and cause loss of market share, said Gempler, who supported Inslee and was on his transition committee a year ago.
“It would hasten consolidation in our industry, especially labor-intensive agriculture such as tree fruit,” Gempler said.
Agriculture will also be concerned about Inslee’s suggestion of tax exemptions to fund education and the possible impacts of addressing climate change, Gempler said.
State Sen. Mark Schoesler, a Ritzville wheat farmer and Senate Republican leader, said a minimum wage increase is unlikely and was posturing by Inslee to his “Seattle base that thinks $15 (as a minimum wage) is a good idea.”
“It’s a recipe to help Idaho grow,” said Schoesler, “Some of us are in real contact with small businesses and represent border counties. In a globally competitive market for apples, cherries and potatoes, our competitors won’t raise their minimum wage in sympathy. They will laugh at us.”
Idaho’s minimum wage is already $2 less than Washington’s, he said. Schweitzer Engineering of Pullman is an example of a company that has built facilities in Lewiston instead of Pullman for Idaho’s more favorable business climate, Schoesler said.
“The governor never once acknowledged that we’re in the top five in payroll taxes. He wants to make us No. 1,” he said.
“He won’t say that he won’t impose low-carbon fuel standards by executive order. He’s very Clintonesque in his speech,” Schoesler said. “The trucking association says to meet those standards would be a 60-cent per gallon increase in fuel costs.”
Agriculture is willing to support some increase in fuel taxes to pay for transportation improvements if there are reforms, he said.
Inslee said the state faces a 52 percent decrease in maintenance for bridges and roads in the next two years.
“If we do not act, 71 additional bridges will become structurally deficient,” he said. He referenced the collapse of the Skagit River bridge on Interstate 5 last May and said the 520 bridge needs to be finished.
But transportation is an issue on both sides of the state, he said.
“Our wheat farmers depend on the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad to help feed the world and yet several of its trestles are more than a century old and in disrepair,” he said.
It was nice that he mentioned that system and it’s needs because it is important to the wheat industry, said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission in Spokane. The commission has no position on the minimum wage or fuel tax other than it’s for funding to come to Eastern Washington, he said.