Minimum-wage workers in California could see their first raises in six years if a bill that passed the state Assembly this week continues to make its way through Sacramento.
The state’s minimum hourly wage would increase from $8 to $8.25 next year under the bill. It would rise to $9.25 by 2016 and adjusted for inflation in following years.
That would make it the highest minimum wage in the country, if other states' wages stay the same as they are now. Washington currently has the highest minimum wage at $9.19.
AB10 passed the Assembly Thursday on a 42-24 vote. It now heads to the Senate.
Democratic supporters of the measure contend the minimum wage has not kept pace with the rising costs of food, gasoline and other necessities.
“The last time the minimum wage was increased in California, gas was at $3.25 a gallon in this state,” said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, who is spearheading the change.
“I don't know about you, but I haven't seen gas prices at that level for a very long time.”
Seven states have set their minimum wages higher than California, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Minimum wage is $9.19 in Washington; $8.95 in Oregon; $8.60 in Vermont; and $8.25 in Nevada, Connecticut, Washington D.C., and Illinois.
Massachusetts is the only other U.S. state with an $8 per hour minimum wage.
Opponents argue that minimum-wage jobs are often held by teenagers or workers who soon move on to higher-paid positions. Alejo said his mother-in-law has earned the minimum wage at one of her jobs for 20 years.
Business leaders oppose the bill, which they say would burden employers and force them to cut jobs. A study by the National Federation of Independent Business said more than 68,000 jobs could be lost during the next decade as a result.
“Small-business owners at a minimum get a double whammy on Jan. 1” when various taxes and fees from the federal health care law also will go into effect, said John Kabateck, executive director for the state's NFIB chapter.
An assemblyman from Chino Hills argued that because different regions of the state face different economic challenges, it could be harmful to increase the minimum wage in areas with a lower cost of living.
“If we do a blanket change like this, it puts us out of competition with other states,” said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills.
Federal law sets a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have set their minimum wage levels higher than the federal standard.
Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina have no minimum wage law.