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Oregon, Washington Propose $12 State Minimum Wages

File photo. Activists rally in support of a $15 per hour minimum wage on the steps of the Washington capitol building in Olympia.
Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
File photo. Activists rally in support of a $15 per hour minimum wage on the steps of the Washington capitol building in Olympia.

Oregon could leapfrog Washington to have the highest state minimum wage in the country if the Democratically-controlled legislature approves a proposed increase.

Different Democrats in the Oregon Legislature have filed proposals to raise the state minimum wage in stages from the current $9.25 per hour up to $12.20 or $15. But the Washington State Legislature Monday got a head start in considering a similar increase to $12 per hour.

Washington currently has the highest state minimum at $9.47.

An overflow crowd showed up in Olympia for the first hearing on a proposal to raise that in four steps to $12 per hour. Several small business owners spoke in favor of it.

"Retention is so important in our bottom line," Long Beach, Washington, hotel owner Tiffany Turner said. "Paying our employees well and treating them well makes a huge difference to our employees and our customers."

But then others, like fast food operator JoReen Brinkman of Pullman, warned of consequences.

"Last year, we were forced to raise prices two percent due to an increase in minimum wage and rising cost of goods,” Brinkman said. “We had a huge backlash from customers."

The narrow partisan majorities in the statehouses in both Salem and Olympia make it hard to predict the outcome on raising the minimum wage.

A proposed increase to $12 per hour failed to clear the Democratically-controlled Washington House last year.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.
Tom Banse
Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.