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Utah advocates for poor call for minimum wage increase

Published February 11, 2014 10:56 pm

To $10.25 an hour • Critics say lawmakers ignoring the issue.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Advocates for the poor worry that Utah lawmakers are ignoring — or are building misleading roadblocks — to a bill seeking to raise Utah's minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.25 an hour.

They held a Capitol press conference Tuesday to complain that a fiscal note on the bill says it will cost the state millions — but does not count benefits it could bring. They also worry Republicans may not give a hearing to HB73, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Millcreek.

Art Sutherland, spokesman for the Coalition of Religious Communities, noted that a fiscal note "says the state is going to have to pay its workers an extra $20 million a year if this happens..... They say there is no revenue increase, so the state is out $20 million."

He contends that fails to consider the extra sales and income tax to be generated by higher wages. So he said, "Don't believe it."

The fiscal notes says the bill could increase the income of the estimated 237,000 minimum-wage workers in the state by $943 million. It says the average increase for the estimated 74,000 full-time workers earning minimum wages would be about $6,240 a year.

Hemingway said his bill has been assigned to the House health and human services committee, but it has not scheduled a hearing. Activists urged quick action, saying it is needed.

The Rev. Matthew T. Seddon with St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in West Valley City told how one parishioner — a single mom with two children — earns "slightly more than minimum wage," but she "was homeless. She explained that most landlords require that you make three times what the rent is." She could not find an affordable apartment with her job.

"In our state, no one should work full time and still live in poverty," Hemingway said. "Raising the minimum wage is a fiscally conservative policy that reduces dependence on the social-safety net."

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, disagrees, and said she sees no interest among Republicans who control the Legislature to consider a minimum-wage increase. "The House has been very resistant to that through the years, and I don't see that will change."

Minimum-wage bills "tend to backfire" by destroying many lower wage jobs, she said. "They price young people and starting jobs out of the market."