Republican Lawmakers Propose Raising Pennsylvania Minimum Wage

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A proposed GOP-sponsored bill could be a welcome surprise for proponents of raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania. Two Republican state Senators, Dan Laughlin of Erie County and Pat Browne of Lehigh County, intend to introduce a proposal that would increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10. They addressed this proposal in a memo sent out last week to all state senators, asking for co-sponsors. As noted in their memo, the current $7.25 minimum wage is equivalent to the federal minimum wage that has not changed since 2009. The future bill would also re-establish setting tipped wages to 40% of the minimum wage. In 1996, Pennsylvania stopped increasing tipped wages in conjunction with minimum wage increases and it is currently at $2.83 per hour. The senators said in their memo that the value of the tipped wage has depreciated to 39% of the minimum wage.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has been actively pushing for a higher minimum wage for years. From the beginning of his career, Wolf has repeatedly commissioned Pennsylvania lawmakers to gradually increase the statewide minimum wage but has not been able to achieve enough support in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. In January 2020, Governor Wolf emphasized his call to raise Pennsylvania’s “embarrassingly low” minimum wage to $12 an hour with a pathway to eventually raise it to $15.

Of course, 2020 was a difficult year for employers and employees navigating the world of the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns and economy, so the minimum wage was not increased. However, in another press conference in February of this year, Governor Wolf renewed his pitch to raise the minimum wage. Wolf’s proposal calls for raising the minimum wage to $12 in July, and then an additional 50 cents annually, until it reaches $15 per hour in 2027.

In 2020, thirty states in the U.S. had a minimum wage that was more than the federally required minimum. Of those thirty states, twenty-six of them will further increase the minimum wage in 2021. Pennsylvania remains amongst the twenty states that have not changed their minimum wage since 2009. Currently, A full-time, year-round minimum wage worker earns only $15,080 annually, less than the federal poverty threshold for a family of two. The governor and his Democratic supporters emphasize that not only will 1.1 million Pennsylvanians personally benefit from an increase in minimum wage, but that It also would reduce the burden of taxpayer-funded social services and increase tax revenue. Governor Wolf’s plan also includes a personal income tax cut for 2.8 million Pennsylvania residents, which he said would help small-business owners.

While raising the minimum wage is not a new issue, it is fueled by strong opinions on both aides.  Republican lawmakers and some business groups argue that an increased minimum wage will just bring on more hardship to the already suffering businesses in the wake of the pandemic. Governor Wolf already faced difficulty raising the minimum wage while the state had a functionally healthy economy, and this movement may now be a much harder task.

Nonetheless, the recent support by the GOP lends new insight as to what the state could expect in the coming year.

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