Governor leads by example on call for minimum wage increase; Republicans continue game of musical chairs on budget
House Democrats have been advocating for a minimum wage increase in Pennsylvania for years. This week, Gov. Tom Wolf jump-started that effort by signing an executive order increasing the wage to $10.15 for about 450 low-wage state workers.
In addition to moving these workers closer to a living wage, the governor was clearly calling for the legislature to increase the minimum wage for the rest of the 1 million-plus Pennsylvanians trying to afford rent, groceries and other necessities on the current minimum of $7.25, which leaves a family of two below the federal poverty line. Public support for a minimum wage increase in Pennsylvania is above 70 percent.
Raising the wage is about fairness and economic justice: every state around Pennsylvania has a higher minimum wage. But it's also about boosting our state's economy. Raising the minimum wage would put more money in the pockets of low-wage workers, money that would be spent on goods and services in our small businesses.
The Economic Policy Institute reports that raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania would boost demand and productivity, create as many as 5,000 new jobs and have an economic impact in Pennsylvania worth more than $1 billion. It would also boost revenues for the state budget by $60 million – an important consideration as we try to find ways to fund education and fix the state's growing structural deficit.
Speaking of the state budget and structural deficit, three weeks of House and Senate budget hearings wrapped up this week. Majority Republicans doubled down on the bad budgeting policies of the past by continuing to defend the budget they passed in December, which the state's Independent Fiscal Office says is out-of-balance by $300 million. Despite this deficit, it seems likely Republicans will continue to move forward with piecemeal supplemental spending bills.
But as Democratic Rep. Mike Carroll pointed out during the hearings, this amounts to a cruel game of musical chairs. At some point, the money will run out, supplemental spending bills will no longer be possible, and the ability to fund many groups and critical services – those chosen by Republicans – will disappear. We need to compromise on a full, balanced and honest 2015-16 budget and begin putting the state's fiscal house in order.