Polling finds strong support for minimum-wage increase

EVERETT — Initiative 1433 has a simple pitch: Give Washington’s lowest-paid workers higher wages and paid sick leave.

Supporters say it will help individuals and families struggling to get by, and will boost local spending. Opponents say it is too much, too fast, and it would mean higher wages for some and job cuts for others.

The limited polling done on I-1433 has voters backing the measure. Supporters have poured millions of dollars into the yes campaign, while opponents are working with a shoestring budget.

I-1433 proposes to gradually increase the minimum hourly wage in Washington from the current $9.47 to $13.50 by 2020. The first increase — to $11 an hour — would kick in Jan. 1. It would go to $11.50 in 2018 and $12 in 2019. It would then jump to $13.50 the next year. After that, it would keep pace with inflation, as determined by the state’s Department of Labor and Industry.

The initiative also guarantees paid sick leave for all workers. Starting in 2018, a worker would earn one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked. At the end of each year, a worker could carry over up to 40 hours of unused time into the following year.

Supporters say passing the initiative will put money into the pockets of working poor people, boost local spending and even improve public health. With paid sick leave, fewer workers would go to work ill, and more parents could stay at home with sick kids.

The current minimum wage is $3.15 an hour below a living wage in Snohomish County, according to Amy Glasmeier, an economics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The proposal is straightforward and resonates with voters, said Carlo Caldirola-Davis, campaign director for Raise Up Washington, the group behind I-1433. “When we walk people through that commonsense explanation, they’re with us.”

The campaign has received more than $3.5 million in cash and more than $550,000 worth of other support, such as donating staff time and office space. Nearly all of the support comes from labor unions and progressive groups, but a single voter tops the list: Nick Hanauer. The Seattle-based venture capitalist and civic activist has put $1 million into the campaign, including $500,000 in late September.

Raise Up Washington has spent more than $1.3 million so far, including $532,700 collecting enough signatures to get I-1433 on the November ballot. The campaign is running television and digital ads, and sending direct mail to voters. Hundreds of volunteers also are directly contacting voters.

“We’ve already knocked on over 10,000 doors and talked to 40,000 voters on the phone,” Caldirola-Davis said. He expects to contact 200,000 voters before the election.

Raise Up Washington has seven field offices around the state and more than 1,000 volunteers, according to the campaign.

Across the state, the campaign’s polling puts support among voters at 62 percent. That is fairly close to recent polls by two independent firms: Elway Research put the yes vote at 57 percent with 31 percent against and 12 percent undecided; Insights West put the yes vote at 55 percent, with 30 against and 15 undecided.

The two polls found heavy support among Democrats, while more than 50 percent of independents polled said they support I-1433. A majority of Republican voters said they oppose it, but both polls found nearly 30 percent supporting it.

The strongest support for I-1433 is in Western Washington, especially along Puget Sound. But the campaign’s internal polling shows solid support in cities east of the Cascades. “We’re polling over 60 percent (for I-1433) in Spokane and Yakima,” he said.

All that leaves the No on I-1433 campaign with a big hill to climb by Nov. 8. Opponents had raised only $69,000 by Monday, most in cash from six industry groups, whose members include many businesses that depend on low-wage workers, such as restaurants and retailers.

Some of those businesses unsuccessfully lobbied state legislators in 2015 to pass a bill to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, said Yvette Ollada, the campaign’s spokeswoman.

The no side might not have fat campaign coffers, but it does have stacks of economic research that show increasing the minimum wage creates mixed results at best.

“We’re trying to get the best data out to combat the other side’s misinformation,” Ollada said.

To be sure, neither side has a lock on empirical evidence. For decades, most economists held it as a truth that enacting minimum wage laws meant fewer jobs. That position was virtually a litmus test for aspiring economists, Thomas Leonard, a Princeton University economics professor, wrote in the academic journal History of Political Economy in 2000.

However, new research has challenged that position. In early 2014, hundreds of economists signed a letter asking President Barack Obama to raise the federal minimum wage, arguing that research indicates increasing the minimum wage has little negative effects even during economic down times. It even “could have a small stimulative effect on the economy,” the letter stated. The signers included three economists at the University of Washington and one at Washington State University.

Yet the experts are far from resolving the matter.

UW researchers found mixed results when looking at the early effects of Seattle City Council voting in 2014 to gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15. After the ordinance’s first year, they found that increased pay was “offset by modest reductions in employment and hours,” the team wrote in a study released in July.

The early evidence indicates the higher pay has been a small drag on the Seattle’s economy. But the team’s findings cannot simply be applied to the rest of the state, the study cautions.

“The verdict on Seattle is still out,” said Odalla, the No campaign’s spokeswoman.

Implementing a statewide $13.50 minimum wage is “an elitist experiment on the poorest people of Washington,” she said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dcatchpole.

Follow the money

Based on reports filed with the state as of Oct. 17.

No on I-1433

Total raised: $69,146.73

Cash contributions: $65,500.00

In-kind contributions: $3,546.73

Spent: $18,546.73

Where is the money coming from?

State: Cash contributions (Percent of total )

Washington: $65,500.00 (100% )

Who is giving the most cash?

Donor: Amount (Percent of total)

1. Washington Restaurant Association: $25,000 (38.2%)

2. Association of Washington Business: $15,000 (22.9%)

3. Washington Food Industry Association: $10,000 (15.3%)

4. Washington Retail Association: $10,000 (15.3%)

5. Washington State Farm Bureau: $5,000 (7.6%)

6. SMACNA Western Washington, Inc. – SMAC PAC: $500 (0.8%)

Raise Up WA 2016 (for I-1433)

Total raised: $3,997,722.97

Cash contributions: $3,423,389.57

In-kind contributions: $558,088.13

Spent: $1,876,799.00

Where is the money coming from?

State: Cash contributions (Percent of total )

Washington: $2,645,401 (77.3%)

California: $405,239 (11.8%)

District of Columbia: $360,500 (10.5%)

Others: $12,250 (0.4%)

Who is giving the most cash?

Donor: Amount (Percent of total)

1. Nicolas Hanauer, Seattle: $1,000,000 (29.2%)

2. SEIU Washington State Council: $575,000 (16.8%)

3. United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union AFL-CIO CLC: $350,000 (10.2%)

4. UFCW Local 21: $305,000 (8.9%)

5. The Fairness Project: $300,000 (8.8%)

6. SEIU Healthcare 1199 NW: $200,000 (5.8%)

7. SEIU 775: $173,000 (5.1%)

8. The Fairness Project WA PAC: $100,000 (2.9%)

9. Washington Education Association: $100,000 (2.9%)

10. Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO: $90,000 (2.6%)

Total: $3,193,000

Snohomish County cash donors

Donor: Amount

General Teamsters Union Local No. 38: $9,000

Snohomish Co. Labor Council: $500

16 individuals: $813

Total: $10,313

Source: Public Disclosure Commission

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