Eye on Olympia: Hargrove, Tharinger take opposite sides on minimum wage measure

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — As a state House of Representatives bill to raise Washington’s minimum wage heads to a public hearing this week, two of the North Olympic Peninsula’s voices in Olympia have differing opinions on the issue.

Under House Bill 2672, the state’s hourly minimum wage for workers 18 years of age and older would increase from $9.32 to $10 starting in 2015, to $11 a year later, and finally to $12 on Jan. 1, 2017.

The bill, introduced by State Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Labor and Workforce Development this Tuesday.

State Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, is one of 31 Representatives, all Deomcrats, co-sponsoring the bill.

In a Friday interview, Tharinger said the bill is a way to make sure families in the state can survive off a minimum wage.

“Raising minimum wage is, I think, a way to provide for families so we don’t have to provide for them [through] a government [welfare] program,” Tharinger said.

State Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said Friday he would not support a legislative effort to raise the minimum wage based on the relatively slow economic recovery being seen in rural districts like the one he represents.

“I just don’t see that this is the right time to be making this move,” Hargrove said.

Hargrove and Tharinger, along with State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, represent the 24th Legislative District, which comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.

Hargrove said he has concerns that raising the minimum wage would only increase costs for small businesses, leading to reduced hiring or even layoffs.

Employers being forced to pay a higher minimum wage might also endanger health benefits for all employees to reduce costs, Hargrove added.

“There’s only so much money there to deal with in a lot of businesses,” Hargrove said. “There’s a concern for other employers by raising the minimum wage up.”

Since 2001, the state minimum wage has been adjusted annually to account for inflation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Tharinger said a higher minimum wage would likely increase costs for employers but would also allow employees to put more money back into the economy.

“Overall, it’s broadening the [economic] base to provide income that families can live on,” Tharinger said. “I think it’s an equity [and] fairness issue, and in the end, I think it has some economic benefits.”

Van De Wege said Friday that he can understand the concerns of small business interests about increased costs but said HB 2672 seems to be designed to lessen that impact over three years.

“I think an increase is hard for businesses to swallow; this makes it a bit easier,” Van De Wege said, adding that he’s waiting to take a position on the bill until more discussion is had.

In other legislative news, Hargrove introduced a bill Thursday that would delay for 10 years the implementation of specific tax preferences for the marijuana industry.

As the rules for marijuana production stand now, the production side of the industry legalized by state initiative 502 in 2012 would be eligible for tax breaks given to the state’s agricultural industry.

Hargrove said his bill would insert exceptions for marijuana plants and marijuana-related products into the current stare code laying out tax preferences for the agricultural sector.

The legislation would not make the exceptions permanent, adding that marijuana producers and retailers would be able to make the case for tax breaks for their industry.

“Any preferential treatment for tax has to go through some analysis,” Hargrove said. “It’s just that you have to make your own case rather than attaching to other industries.”

Hargrove’s bill serves as a Senate companion and is identical to House Bill 2409, which Tharinger is co-sponsoring.

“There’s a pretty long list of exemptions for the agricultural sector,” Tharinger said.

“The idea is not allow the exemptions for marijuana production.”

The exclusions for the marijuana industry include 32 separate tax preferences applied to the agricultural sector, according to the bill analysis of HB 2409.

The exclusion of pot from those preferences would generate an estimated $2.8 million more for the state Department of Revenue in 2015, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.

Tharinger said he does not see the delaying of tax preferences as potentially harming a burgeoning industry, adding that he thinks the marijuana producers and retailers will likely still be successful without them.

“It seems to be that they should be willing to pay some of these taxes on production,” Tharinger said.

Van De Wege said he plans to wait until further discussion is had on the issue before taking a position.

“I’m neutral; I don’t have a stance either way,” Van De Wege said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 02. 2014 6:22PM
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