HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Proposals to raise Hawaii’s minimum wage to $15 an hour are moving forward at the state Capitol.
With the state's cost of living one of the highest in the nation, the issue is a top priority for lawmakers this year.
The current minimum wage is $10.10.
House lawmakers are proposing two tiers of minimum wage.
For employers who provide workers with health coverage, the minimum wage will increase $10.50 starting January 2020. It will then go up 50 cents a year until it reaches $12.50 in 2024.
For employees without health benefits, the minimum wage will increase to $11 in 2020, then increase a dollar every year until its at $15 in 2024.
The Senate proposal starts 2020 at $12 and bumps the minimum wage up to $15 in 2023. To help ease the burden on businesses, it also includes a tax credit of up to $50,000 for qualifying companies.
"We joke about the $25 hamburger, but that's not far away," said Gregg Fraser, general manager of Viaggio Restaurant and Italica Bar and Cafe.
Viaggio says both the restaurant industry and dining experience in Hawaii will greatly suffer if the minimum wage went up.
"It would bring all kinds of chaos. We have to cut hours, we have to cut people. Where you have four people doing a job, we're going to have to cut it back to possibly two. It's going to impact service," Fraser said.
Opponents say the minimum wage should be considered a training wage for entry-level employees to work their way up.
"We rely on a minimum wage for untrained, unskilled labor to come in, so that we can pay more to train them to move them up the latter to earn more," said Fraser.
While businesses say the $15 figure is too high, some advocates for a "living wage" say it's not enough.
"The data from our own state tells us $17 is what a single person with no children needs to just get by. One way or the other, if we don't pay people enough to survive, all of us pay the cost," said advocate Dawn Morais Webster.
Since 2015, the minimum wage has increased from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. Prior to that, it didn’t change for eight years.