The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 13, 2014

Minimum wage raise bill passes in House

West Virginia Legislature

By Pamela Pritt
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — A bill that would raise the minimum wage 75 cents an hour by Jan. 1, 2015, passed the House of Delegates Wednesday on an 89-5 vote. Members who spoke called the measure “a West Virginia issue,” not a Republican or Democrat issue.

Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley, has done the math.

Barrett said on the House Floor Wednesday that minimum wage workers earn $290 a week, or $15,000 a year. With the increase that passed out of the House of Delegates Wednesday, those workers will bring home more than $18,000, he said. Barrett said the move is “the least we can do for these working families.”

“This is how we move West Virginia forward,” said Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said. “Some families live from pay day to pay day. We’re doing something good for West Virginia.”

Five Republicans, including Mercer County’s Marty Gearhart, did not agree, and voted against the measure.

Gearhart said in the House Committee on Finance that although he supported state residents making more money, he feared the increase would harm small businesses and increase unemployment.

Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, said minimum wage jobs were never meant to be living wage jobs. Instead, he said, the minimum wage was created for entry level jobs. He said  he’d seen a number those jobs, including gas station attendants and movie theater ushers, disappear over the years.

“My concern is why those jobs are gone,” he said. “I’d like to make sure we keep those kinds of jobs.”

“If someone were earning minimum wage in 1960, if we adjusted that for inflation today, they’d be making more than $10 (an hour),” said Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson. “No one can survive on a minimum wage job.”

Clay County Democrat Delegate David Walker said he believes the increase should be to the $10 an hour level.

“You can’t always get what you want,” Walker said. In spite of the fact he wanted more, Walker said he would vote for the bill because it would stimulate the economy.

“It should be where we start,” agreed Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha. “This is not an effort to kill jobs, it’s to feed our families every single day.”

The bill, which increases hourly wages from $7.25 an hour to $8 by Jan. 1, 2015, and to $8.75 the following year, will move to the Senate.

— E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com