State Senate committee approves plan to hike minimum wage for Hawaii workers, state employees

State Senate committee approves plan to hike minimum wage for Hawaii workers, state employees

Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, March 29, 2019

Sophie Cocke

A key Senate committee Thursday advanced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $17 an hour this year for state workers and gradually increase it to $15 an hour by 2023 for other workers in Hawaii.

House Bill 1191, which passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee, also provides a tax credit to small businesses to cushion the impact of paying out more in personnel costs.

Increasing the minimum wage is a priority for the Hawaii Democratic Party, which passed a resolution last year advocating for a living wage in Hawaii. Currently, the minimum wage in Hawaii is $10.10 an hour, which equates to about $21,000 annually for full-time workers.

The annual salary for a full-time worker earning $15 an hour comes out to about $31,000, and about $35,000 a year for a full-time worker getting paid $17 an hour.

It’s not clear how many state workers would be affected by the proposed minimum wage hike. The state Department of Human Resources Development didn’t respond to a request for that information.

Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Makiki- Tantalus-Manoa), who chairs the Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts, said he’s reticent to advocate for $17 an hour for all workers because of the impact it would have on businesses.

The bill is expected to go to conference committee where there will be a final round of negotiations between key members of the House and Senate.

Sen. Gil Riviere (D, Heeia- Laie-Waialua) was the only member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee to vote against the amended version of House Bill 1191 on Thursday, noting the two different tiers for minimum wages.

“I disagree with this unequal treatment that often happens in the Legislature where we have one set of rules for the state workers and one set of rules for everyone else,” he said. “So I disagree with that on principle.”

Riviere also said he was worried about the effect the increase to $15 an hour beginning in 2023 would have on small businesses.

“To go 50 percent more on your minimum payroll, that is a big jump to absorb in three to four years,” he said. “So I’ve got to support small business on that one and say that if we are going to do a minimum wage increase, I think it has to be more gradual, it’s got to have a softer touch, or else I think we are going to really hurt business.”

The push to increase the minimum wage in Hawaii echoes a broader national campaign financed by labor groups called the Fight for $15.

Livable wage can sustain our economy

Livable wage can sustain our economy

Hawaii’s workers need living wages

Hawaii’s workers need living wages