By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
Gov. Tom Corbett has gone on the record saying he would not support an increase to Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, since the move could hurt the state’s ongoing economic recovery.
During a meeting with the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader editorial board last week, Corbett was asked about his views on the state’s minimum wage, a timely question since New Jersey recently voted to increase its own minimum wage, and protesters across the country are urging other states to do the same. President Obama has called for a $10 national minimum wage, and Democrats in Washington, D.C., as well as in Harrisburg, have started pushing the issue into the political spotlight.
But Corbett is not swayed by the arguments. He said there are no plans at the state level to change Pennsylvania’s minimum wage.
“The economy’s starting to come back,” Corbett said during an interview Friday at The Times Leader. “I always worry about changing the dynamic when we’re starting to come out of (the recession.)”
Pennsylvania’s minimum wage was last increased in 2006, to $7.15 per hour. Since then, the federal government increased the national minimum wage to $7.50 per hour, so that’s what Pennsylvania employers must pay.
Experts are generally divided over whether a minimum wage hike would help employees, but they agree on some points: Increasing the minimum wage could lead to increased prices at fast food chains and restaurants, and increases in mandatory wages create a more difficult burden for small employees than for large corporations, which have more options when it comes to offsetting costs.
And increasing the mandatory minimum wage does nothing to help the roughly 484,000 Pennsylvanians who are unemployed and looking for work. In fact, it could add to their numbers if employers have no other way to adjust for the higher costs imposed by the wage mandate.
Setting aside the economic arguments, the populist message of increasing the minimum wage is sure to be a part of next year’s gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania. Most of the Democratic candidates in the race to unseat Corbett have endorsed an increase in the state’s minimum wage.
One of those candidates, former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf, used Corbett’s comments to the Times Leader to blast the governor.
“I believe we need to raise the minimum wage to help Pennsylvania’s workers and strengthen the economy,” Wolf said in a statement. ‘It is clear that Tom Corbett does not have a real plan to get our economy back on track.”
Terry Madonna, a pollster and professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College, said the minimum wage issue is shaping up to be a substantial one for the 2014 race, but there has been limited polling on how Pennsylvanians feel about the idea.
“The Democrats believe they have found an important issue and it is going to be front-and-center in the campaign,” Madonna said. “But the real question is whether it will resonate with voters.”
The minimum wage issue may become a national one for Democrats, who could find some shelter in a populist economic message as they try to pivot away from the problems with the rollout of Obamacare. Unions have fueled minimum wage protests at Walmart stores, fast food chains and restaurants over the past two weeks in an effort to draw attention to the issue.
Voters in South Dakota have added a minimum wage question to the ballot for 2014 – the proposal would raise the wage to $8.50 per hour and tie future increases to inflation, similar to what happened this year in New Jersey.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic lawmakers in the state House and state Senate have introduced bills to increase the minimum wage, but none are expected to go very far in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.