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Our opinion: Going too fast on minimum wage

Pennsylvania legislators should tread lightly with Rep. Roni Green’s proposal to increase the state minimum wage by $4.75 an hour on Jan. 1 and another $1.50 an hour raise on July 1.

The minimum wage debate isn’t anything new, of course, given that Pennsylvania’s minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009 when the federal government raised the earnings floor to $7.25 an hour. Gov. Tom Wolf, for example, last year proposed a more gradual adjustment to a $15 an hour minimum wage by 2025.

What is new is the state’s businesses adjusting to business as unusual during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses have every right to be concerned how Green’s accelerated schedule would impact them given the governor’s orders that limit the number of people who can be in a business, if that sector is lucky enough to be allowed to operate at all.

There are 29 states with minimum wages higher than Pennsylvania and 12 other states with the same $7.25 minimum wage as Pennsylvania’s and six states with no minimum wage whatsoever. If the state Legislature feels it has to act — and that is far from guaranteed — we would recommend a plan such as the one pursued in New York state. There, the New York Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented a three-year phased minimum wage increase that was tied to different levels depending on the region of the state. The result was a higher minimum wage for urban areas and a lower minimum wage for rural areas where the cost of living isn’t as high.

Minimum wage discussions have to take into account both the employer and the employee. Green’s proposal is too far, too fast, particularly in light of COVID-19 and the continued strain the virus is already putting on businesses. Republicans in the legislature need to act as a moderating force.

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