By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The first state minimum wage increase in six years became closer to reality Wednesday after lawmakers passed a bill mandating regular pay hikes through the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee.
The full Senate will next take it up for a vote.
The legislation, Senate Bill 331, is one of six seeking an increase in the minimum wage, though it is the first to be ready for a floor vote in either chamber.
As amended, the bill would establish a minimum wage of $8.25 — an increase of $1 — beginning Jan. 1, 2014. The wage would be increased to $8.75 in 2014, $9.25 in 2015, and be tied to the annually-adjusted consumer price index afterward.
Labor groups and some state agencies support raising the wage to help workers make ends meet, while the business community, noting a still struggling economy, says it could lead to less employment and stifle growth.
“Our economy remains tenuous,” the Retail Merchants of Hawaii wrote to the committee. “Our focus should be on stabilizing our businesses so as to enable increasing employment and hastening recovery.”
Pacific Quest, a Big Island organization that provides care for at-risk adolescents and young adults, also wrote in opposition.
“As an employer of approximately 135 employees this bill could very well mean the end of our company, or at the very least, mean the end of employment for a large number of individuals at my company,” wrote Executive Director Michael McKinney.
Supporters say low-income workers spend most of the money they earn, and that an increase would bump consumer spending. They also note that 19 states plus Washington, D.C., have higher minimum wages despite Hawaii’s higher cost of living.
“Our people are being pushed off our islands while so many of us can’t afford homes …,” wrote Local 5 Hawaii, which represents hotel, health care and food service workers.
Hawaii, which saw the last increase in 2007, has the same minimum wage as the federal rate.
To have the same purchasing power in 2016 as in 2007, a worker would have to make $9.16 an hour, according to the state Department of Labor and Industries.
The agency, which is supporting the proposed increase, argues that fewer workers will be on welfare or in poverty as a result.
A full-time minimum wage earner makes $15,080 annually.
On Wednesday, the committee also deferred taking action on bills to transfer the Banyan Drive area, Hapuna Beach Park and Mauna Kea State Recreational Area from the state Department of Natural Resources to Hawaii County until Friday.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.