Voter support clear for wage, leave legislation

The just-concluded elections helped to resolve nothing in our state.

We will have a small Republican majority in the state Senate and a small Democratic majority in the state House. They won’t agree on much of anything.

Perhaps the Legislature can take a few hints from other states and cities around the country. In Arkansas, the Republicans enjoyed a clean sweep of all statewide offices, all Congressional seats and increased their majorities in the State Senate and the State House. At the same time, the people voted by a 2-to-1 majority to increase the minimum wage in their state by $2.25. In South Dakota, the Republicans swept all offices, and the people voted to increase the minimum wage by $1.25, effective on January 1, and, taking a tip from our state, made sure that the minimum wage keeps up with inflation after that. In Nebraska, GOP victories for U.S. Senate, governor, secretary of state, attorney general, lieutenant governor, auditor, and other offices were accompanied by a strong victory for raising the minimum wage by $1.75 to $9 by 2016.

Alaska voters elected Republicans as U.S. senator and Congressperson, an independent former Republican as governor, and kept Republican majorities in their state Senate and state House. And Alaskans also voted more than 2-to-1 to increase the minimum wage to $9.75 as of January 2016, which will be higher than our current minimum wage in Washington state. On the East Coast, Massachusetts voters elected a Republican governor and put into law a statewide paid sick days law modeled on Seattle’s ordinance. And ping-ponging back to our coast, Oakland, California, passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $12.25 and requiring businesses to provide five paid sick days a year.

Something is happening here, and it is pretty clear what it is. When voters are faced with a clear-cut decision on actual policy, they vote for their own economic security and that of their neighbors and friends. When they are faced with candidates who promise everything (and often deliver nothing, or even the opposite of what they promise), they swing back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. Candidates of both parties hype themselves to the voters, with rhetoric and platitudes. And once they are in office, they often stand down from their own promises.

In Washington, our elected public servants in the state House and state Senate have a chance now to turn campaign slogans into actual policy. If the voters in both conservative Republican-controlled states and Democratic-controlled states have endorsed new policy for increasing the minimum wage and for making paid sick days a labor standard, our political leaders should be able to do the same thing here. These issues have support across party lines. It should be simple. In fact, legislation for paid sick days was introduced in the House last year, sponsored by state Reps. Mike Sells, D-Everett; Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish; Luis Moscoso, D-Bothell; and Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline. The Democratic-controlled House passed this bill to the Senate, and the Republican leadership of the Senate let it die.

So, in considering the votes across the country for paid sick days, why don’t we just consider that inaction a Mulligan, and take a do-over this year. The Democratic House can pass it over to the Senate, and this time, the Senate could actually consider this bill and take an up-or-down vote on it. That would be refreshing.

While they are at it, the Legislature might want to consider increasing the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour over a three-year period. This was introduced by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle. It made it through one committee and stopped there. Some members of the House thought that they had done enough for workers by passing the paid sick days bill. Increasing the minimum wage was just too heavy a lift for them. But our minimum wage is still less than what it was, adjusted for inflation, in 1972. Raising the minimum wage is good for workers. It also adds a bit of equilibrium to the growth in productivity, ensuring that is not just hogged by the top echelon of executives. The people know this, and so they support it. But will our Legislators do the right thing?

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, www.eoionline.org. Email him at john@eoionline.org.

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