Lawmakers seek to boost minimum wage

  • Richard Creagan

Lawmakers have once again proposed an increase to the state’s minimum wage this year, after a similar proposal died in committee last year.

A pair of bills propose increasing the state’s minimum wage each year over the course of four years. The minimum wage rate would rise to $11 an hour at the start of 2021, to $12 at the start of 2022, to $12.50 in 2023, and ending at $13 an hour in 2024.

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The current minimum wage in the state is $10.10 an hour.

This gradual increase is less substantial than one outlined in a similar bill introduced last year, which would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over four years. That bill was shelved after a conference committee had concerns about a second, lesser wage increase scale for workers receiving medical care through their employers, which would increase the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour over four years.

While no such secondary pay scale is included in the 2020 bills, they do include a pair of changes to state tax credit programs.

The first allows the state’s earned income tax credit to be refundable and would extend that credit beyond 2022; the second would base the refundable food and excise tax credit on a taxpayer’s earned Hawaii income, rather than their federal adjusted gross income.

State Rep. Richard Creagan, a Kailua-Kona Democrat who co-introduced one of the 2020 bills and the 2019 bill, said he is disappointed by the less ambitious proposal, but hopes the bill will evolve throughout the legislative session to offer a greater minimum wage increase.

“I’m hoping this is some kind of negotiating thing,” Creagan said. “If we start low, maybe we can fix it so it ends at $15. If we started higher and dropped it down as we went along, I think people would be disappointed.”

Creagan said he thinks $15 an hour might even be too low, and his ideal bill would continue the increase scale to $17 an hour, which he said will be closer to a livable wage by the time the increase ends.

“Everybody knows this place is too expensive for a lot of people to live,” Creagan said. “Especially on Oahu; to be honest, I don’t know how some people can afford to live there.”

While the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce opposed the 2019 bill, it currently has no official stance on the 2020 bills.

“We’re always interested or concerned about these issues,” said chamber President Rhea Lee-Moku. “But we also know that something must be done to address the high cost of living here.”

Lee-Moku said the chamber will continue to monitor the bill as it evolves and might offer testimony in support or opposition as it progresses. She added that the chamber opposed the 2019 bill because the higher wages it proposed would have been too great an impact on Big Island businesses.

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“I think people should be more willing to push the envelope on issues like this,” Creagan said. “Some folks will grumble, they’ll complain, and some of that might be true in part. But I think it’s something we should do, we could do.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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