POLS ON THE STREET: State GOP May Back off $7.25 Minimum Wage

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STATE SEN. Christine Tartaglione is a longstanding proponent of increasing Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, currently the lowest in the region.

BY JOE SHAHEELI
There are increasing signs that Pennsylvania’s lawmakers in the General Assembly may be girding themselves to do what was once unthinkable: Accept a hike in the minimum wage. In fact, some influential Republicans are talking of putting their names on such a measure.

The Keystone State’s minimum wage has not been raised since the federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25/hour in 2009. All surrounding states have enacted higher rates.

The classic conservative argument against minimum-wage bumps is that they will price low-value, entry-level workers out of the job market altogether. In addition, the cost of living can vary widely from one part of a state to another; thus, a low income in Schuylkill County may go farther than a low income in Montgomery County. So Republicans prefer to argue that the market should be allowed to set wage rates without government interference.

In practice, though, no Republican advocates a minimum wage of $0.00. At some point, human politics will push them to buy a minimum-wage hike – or at least not vote against it, in an election year particularly.

With the municipal primaries over, the bills State legislators pass (or vote against) this year will be cited for them or against them next year.

STATE SEN. David Argall says some Republicans may be ready for a minimum-wage hike as well.

On the Senate side, State Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-Kensington) has been Minority Chair of the Labor & Industry Committee for years and it was she who pushed through the last State-based minimum-wage hike. She is going all out this year behind a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $12.00/year immediately and to $15.00 by 2025.

The majority leader, State Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington), is working on a “cost-of-living increase.” State Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill) has implied the GOP might go even further to meet the Democrats, provided they can arrange some givebacks in other areas.

A hike may make sense for Republicans now for a couple of reasons.

Nationally and statewide, the unemployment rate is low and the labor market tight. That is when a floor boost in wages is least likely to hurt employers or employment, because it goes with the trend of the market at the time.

However, some parts of the state aren’t doing as well as the state average unemployment rate of 3.9% in April or even poor Philadelphia’s rate of 4.1%. And those parts, chiefly in the mountains, vote Republican in the Trump era.

Looking back at the Democratic wave in 2018, their representatives want to stop that wave from mounting any higher next year. They have every incentive to give a gift to their loyal, but often low-wage, constituents.

But a cost-of-living increase alone probably won’t be enough for voters to notice in 2020.

Hmm … How About ‘Council Beings’?

Say goodbye to your favorite City councilman or councilwoman. By the time the last firecracker dies in the sky on New Year’s Eve, they will all be gone.

In their place will be a new “councilmember.”

For the most part this won’t involve an actual gender reassignment, merely a change in title. On May 21, primary voters approved by 68% Proposition 1, which amended the City Charter to address all Council members officially as “Councilmembers.”

Processing the new language through all City documents and signs will keep teams of clerks, lawyers and maintenance workers busy for the rest of 2018. So look for lots of overlap.

When it comes to formal address, people who write things to councilmen or councilwomen should probably start getting in the habit of calling them “councilmember.”

For constituents who can’t be bothered to learn a newfangled word, however, the old terms will still serve fine for years to come.

And Councilmember Joe Smith, if he or she is a wise politician, will probably just say, “Call me Joe.”

Abortion Wars Heat up Already

As a spate of abortion restrictions in various red states advance toward the U.S. Supreme Court, look for Pennsylvania politicos on both sides to make hay of the issue.

Actual changes in Pennsylvania’s abortion laws are impossible until 1923 at the earliest due to the veto power of pro-choice Gov. Tom Wolf over the pro-life General Assembly. But that won’t stop activists in either party from running on the issue.

STATE REP. Brian Sims’ angry clash with pro-life protestors in Philadelphia went viral statewide.

On the pro-choice side, State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-W. Phila.) launched an online donation pitch to an “Accountability Fund” to oppose his Republican colleagues’ “trend in unconstitutional and extreme legislation” that is “chipping away at our constitutional rights.” He believes he can rouse his districts’ voters by ringing the bell on this issue and he is probably right.

On the pro-life side, the State House Republicans’ campaign committee has been weaponizing State Rep. Brian Sims’ (D-S. Phila.) recent encounter with pro-life protestors outside a Center City pregnancy-services clinic. They captured a video of Sims giving the finger to the protestors and quoted him slurring people who like the Bible.

This won’t hurt Sims in his progressive inner-city district, whose majority views on abortion he ably represents. But he will be played countless times in Pennsylvania’s hinterland to pump up Republican votes in 2020, as an example of what all Godfearing souls must turn out to vote against.

In effect, Sims was an unpaid actor in an anti-Democrat campaign advertisement.

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