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'Seattle Quarantine:' Republicans Seek To Stop City Minimum Wage Hikes

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
File photo. Activists rally in support of a $15 per hour minimum wage on the steps of the Washington capitol building in Olympia.

Republicans in the Idaho and Washington legislatures want to block any more cities from going the path of Seattle and Tacoma in raising the minimum wage locally. In Boise Tuesday, a House committee introduced a state preemption bill.

In Idaho, the state Retailers Association and Lodging and Restaurant Association led the push to ban local moves to increase the minimum wage. Lobbyist Pam Eaton said their goal is to prevent a “checkerboard” of wage laws that she said “just wreak havoc amongst the business community” and by extension harm citizens and the economy.

“Businesses are afraid,” Eaton said. “We see this running rampant all across the country. We know it is on the way to Idaho.”

Activists seeking to raise the minimum wage argue it is undemocratic to “thwart” the will of the people in a city that wants to go higher than the state minimum.

“This is a dangerous path to be going down,” United Action for Idaho Executive Director Adrienne Evans said. “People are being denied a ballot initiative to come up with solutions in their own communities. People should be angry as hell.”

In November, voters in the resort town of McCall, Idaho, narrowly rejected a minimum wage increase -- the first Idaho community to hold a public vote on this issue.

Oregon has a long-standing prohibition on cities imposing a higher minimum wage than the state, although a proposed ballot initiative seeks to overturn that. Meanwhile in Olympia, Republican state senators passed a state preemption bill out of a committee last week, but it faces trouble if it reaches the Democratically-controlled Washington House.

Washington State Senator Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, described his preemption proposal as a “Seattle quarantine” when he introduced the legislation. Seattle is in the process of phasing in a $15 per hour minimum wage.

“What flies in Seattle is often completely unrealistic for communities outside the progressive Seattle bubble,” Baumgartner said in a statement. “This is a simple check on city councils run by special interests and ideologues out of touch with the needs of the whole community.”

Washington’s statewide minimum wage stands at $9.47, although as noted, a trio of Puget Sound cities have higher minimums. The preemption measure pending in the Washington Legislature would grandfather local wage laws in effect before enactment of a state blockade.

The minimum wage in Idaho is $7.25 per hour. Oregon’s minimum, indexed to inflation, stands at $9.25. Oregon’s Democratic governor and legislature are currently debating whether to phase in a significant increase with separate tiers for the Portland metro area and other parts of the state.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.