Utah lawmakers reject a bill to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Brian King makes a comment about the Sex Education bill, HB 286, in the house of representatives, Thursday, March 1, 2018.

Republicans voted against raising the minimum wage Thursday, killing two bills that would have given raises to tipped employees who make $2.13 an hour in wages and other workers who can’t afford rent without working more than a full-time job, according to data shared by advocates.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, proposed bumping up the baseline salary from $7.25 an hour to $12 an hour by July 2022. Tipped workers would have gotten more than a $1-an-hour bump under a separate bill that Republicans on a House labor committee also voted against.

King and supporters pointed out that workers are falling behind while the state’s housing costs soar, availability of low-income and affordable housing lags and the minimum wage stays at the same level since 2009 for thousands of workers in Utah.

“What we want in our society in order to ensure that we have a good life in the state of Utah is stability, economic stability,” King said.

Republicans who control the Legislature and the committee that heard the bills didn’t debate the bills before voting against them. Rep. Tim Hawkes, R-Centerville, told King that research from states that have raised their minimum wage shows employers don’t hire as many workers.

Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, said after the votes that he’d prefer if there was no minimum wage. Nearly 30 states have a minimum wage that’s higher than Utah, which is the same as the federal minimum.

Business groups said they had a hard time attracting workers due to a booming economy that has driven up wages and competition and asked lawmakers to reject the bills.

Bill Tibbitts, associate director of the Crossroads Urban Center, said HB117 would have given state employees a raise. An analysis by nonpartisan legislative economists found that under the proposal 311,000 workers would have gotten a raise by 2022.

“There appears to be thousands of employees of the state of Utah who are being paid less than $10.25 an hour,” Tibbitts said. “At least consider looking at expanding it to state employees.”

King’s bill would have lifted the minimum wage above what MIT researchers consider a living wage for a single adult in every metropolitan area of the state, which is around $11 an hour.

“You have entire households unable to afford a two-bedroom rent,” said Christy Clay, a volunteer for the group Utahns for Fair Wages. “It’s not acceptable to run a business that makes people poor by working full-time.”

Utahns working in minimum-wage jobs must work 76 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in the state, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The nonpartisan analysis showed the state would shed about 4,300 jobs by 2023 if it raised the wage to $12 an hour compared to not taking action.

“We are long overdue for an update to our hourly wage,” said Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Millcreek, who’s run similar bills for five straight years but who has missed this session due to his wife’s illness. “Utahns deserve to know that their most basic needs will be taken care of [through] their work, and that they will not have to rely on the state in times of trouble.”