The minimum wage bill will pass

This is why I will vote to support it

Editor's note: Rep. Hunt issued the following Wednesday.

By State Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich), 5th Barnstable District

Argument against a minimum wage

I have often argued that the minimum wage tends to repress pay for people at the bottom of the totem pole. I would argue that, in my representative district on Cape Cod, practically no one would be working for $8 an hour if not for the minimum wage. It tends to be a magnet when the free market would pay more.

There is no better illustration of this than simply taking the $3.35 minimum wage established in 1981 and using the Northeast Consumer Price Index to inflate that figure to the amount it would take to maintain equal purchasing power today. That turns out to be $9.28. Why would anyone argue that the minimum wage should not keep pace with inflation? Or to spin it in a different light, one could argue that employers who are paying less than $9.28 are actually benefiting from the magnetic effect of the minimum wage, putting a $1.28 in their pockets for each hour worked by an employee who's paid the current minimum wage.

Living wage argument

Some people try to make the argument that the minimum wage is not a "living" wage. All I can say to that is "wake up and smell the coffee." Of course it's not a living wage. It was never meant to be a living wage. If you really want it to be a living wage for Massachusetts, then change it to $30 an hour. That should fix the problem.

Most people whose career plan is to work minimum wage jobs for 50 years are on the wrong track. It's a training wage. It's the "I started in the mailroom and now I'm the president of the company" wage. Yes, it may be a career wage for those without motivation to move up in the world, but I don't believe it's the government's responsibility to pick up the slack for underachievers. On the other hand, for those people who have physical or mental limitations that result in, at best, minimum wage work, I have no problem with government assistance to even the playing field. Helping those who cannot help themselves-or in this case those who cannot help themselves enough-is core to my Republican beliefs.

Decision tree

For our vote today, each legislator has to first decide if any level of minimum wage increase is bad policy. If so, that legislator will probably vote against this minimum wage increase. I would argue that begrudging lower paid workers any kind of raise, even one that keeps pace with inflation, is fundamentally unfair.

Those of us who are amenable to increasing the minimum wage have already fought some battles when the House and Senate produced different versions of this bill. Today's compromise bill is an up-or-down vote without the opportunity for further amendments. When the House voted on its minimum wage bill, there were a few amendments that we Republicans offered which were summarily dismissed by the majority party:

  1. The House bill increased the unemployment wage cap to $15,000. We offered an amendment to leave it at $14,000. The compromise bill maintains the $15,000 cap even though the Senate had voted to move it to $21,000.
  2. Rather than taking the minimum wage up to $10.50 over three years as drafted in the House bill, we offered an amendment to take it to $9.50, which is more in line with past inflation. The compromise bill uses the Senate's wage of $11.00.
  3. The Republicans also offered a separate training wage that would be $8.00/hour and be applicable to new employees for no more than 90 days.

All of these amendments went down on party line votes.

Now the decision tree comes down to two options: Vote for or against this compromise bill. Seems simple enough, except that there's a wild card in play. A ballot petition will appear in November that raises the minimum wage to $10.50 and increases the tipped minimum to $6.30 from today's $2.63, a 140% increase. It also automatically ties future minimum wage hikes-inflation drivers themselves-to inflation. That is playing with fire, in my opinion. The legislature should stop this increasingly popular notion of indexing controversial issues to inflation, like legislator pay and the gas tax. If either the inflation index or the tipped minimum at $6.30 were in the compromise bill, I would have been a "no vote."

Fortunately, that is not the case. The compromise bill keeps the tipped minimum at the House's preferred $3.75/hour, a percentage increase that is in line with the overall increase. The Senate wanted $5.50. Because employers are required to pay the difference between a wait person's tipped minimum plus tips and the minimum wage, most people would be led to believe that the tipped minimum is an arbitrary figure. In other words, what difference would it make if the tipped minimum is $3.75 or $6.30 if the wait staff averages $4/hour in tips? In that case the answer would be none. In Massachusetts, however, the average wait staff earns $11/hour in tips, second to only California. In this scenario, 100% of the difference between the current tipped minimum of $2.63 and the proposed $3.75 would be paid out by employers. That's why a tipped minimum of $6.30 would be a job killer in the restaurant industry and contribute strongly to higher prices.

Conclusion

In the end, the compromise bill maintains most of the components of the House bill I voted for two months ago. The $11.00 minimum wage versus the $10.50 in the House bill produces some heartburn for me, but I calculated that the $9.28 mentioned in the second paragraph of this piece would inflate to $10.14 by the time the increment to $11/hour takes place, assuming an inflation rate of 3%. I can live with an 86-cent difference.

Strategically, going with $11/hour is a solid move. With the ballot petition set for $10.50/hour, it is highly unlikely that people will vote to reduce the already-passed minimum wage of $11 by 50 cents. In effect, the $11 figure kills the ballot petition and the two items in it to which that I strongly object.

It is for these reasons that I will vote for the compromise minimum wage bill. Even my anti-minimum-wage-increase-at-all-costs colleagues can see that it represents "the lesser of two evils" when compared with the ballot petition. Some pro-business groups will excoriate me for this vote, but I'm a businessman and the CPA in me tells me that this is the best choice we have today.

CapeCodToday.com welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on CapeCodToday.com.