SACRAMENTO (AP) — The California Assembly has green-lighted a plan that would create the highest statewide minimum wage in the nation of $15 an hour by 2022.

The proposal was passed Thursday and now moves on to the state Senate for consideration.

Democrats who control both legislative chambers hailed the increase as a boon to more than 2 million of California’s poorest workers and an example to the nation as it struggles with a growing gap between rich and poor.

Republicans echoed fears from business owners and economists that the annual increases — eventually tied to inflation — would compound California’s image as hostile to business.

The Assembly passed SB3 with a 48-26 vote.

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders are promoting the boost as a matter of economic justice, and as an example to a nation struggling with a growing divide between rich and poor.

“There’s no doubt in this country the gap between the better off and those that struggle at the bottom of our economic world has grown bigger and bigger, and it is quite incredible that there is so much power, so much wealth, and so many people struggling,” the Democratic governor said as he unveiled his agreement with labor unions. “You’ve got a Congress that doesn’t get it, that’s so out to lunch….”

But opponents said the proposal will further harm California’s already poor business climate. Economists, meanwhile, warned that some low-wage workers will lose their jobs, even as others see higher paychecks.

Supporters say the raises would benefit more than 2 million Californians earning minimum wage.

It would have a ripple effect for those earning near the minimum, according to the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Labor Research and Education, increasing pay for 5.6 million Californians by an average of 24 percent. Nearly all the affected workers are at least in their 20s, researchers found, and nearly three-quarters are in their 30s or older. More than a third are parents, and Latinos would benefit most because they hold a disproportionate number of low-wage jobs.

The right-leaning American Action Forum countered with its own projection that the increases could cost nearly 700,000 jobs

Under the bill, the climb to $15 an hour would start with a boost from $10 to $10.50 next year. Hourly $1 raises would come every January until 2022.

Businesses with 25 or fewer employees would have an extra year to comply. The governor could delay annual increases in times of budgetary or economic downturns. Wages would increase to keep up with inflation after 2023.

Democrats need only majority votes to send SB3 to Brown, and they control majorities in each legislative chamber.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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