Senate Ways & Means chair blocks a bill to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour

Senate Ways & Means Chair is blocking a bill to increase Hawaii's minimum wage
Published: Feb. 28, 2018 at 3:42 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 at 10:22 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hawaii state senator is blocking a bill that would increase Hawaii's minimum wage after a series of pay hikes that was enacted in 2014 came to an end this year.

As of Jan. 1, the state minimum wage stands at $10.10.

Arianna Espinoza says with that rate, she's barely getting by working at a retail store in Ala Moana full time, while also attending college full-time.

"Not only am I paying for my own rent, I'm paying my own insurance," the 20 year old said.

A proposed bill would bump up the minimum wage to $12.25 per hour in 2019, then to $15 per hour in 2020, but the chair of the Senate Ways and Means committee is refusing to give it a hearing without more research.

"We didn't get much interest in having the committee hear the bill until the last 24 hours," said state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz.

"I really believe we have to look at the issue from its entirety because we want to have a balance between making sure people can have a living wage in Hawaii as well as helping our small businesses so that they can hire people."

Business owners who oppose the higher minimum wage say they can't afford it and would have to trim their staffs and argue the economy would suffer.

But Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst at Hawaii Appleseed Center, said studies show a higher minimum wage actually results in additional spending by workers, which would spur the economy.

"Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the nation," Woo said. "It's important to remember that workers are also customers and consumers, so workers are working all these jobs and they can't afford to buy things or go to restaurants or buy fresh fruits and vegetables, then it hurts our entire economy."

This year's debate comes just months after the Republican tax plan slashed corporate taxes, providing such a windfall that Hawaii's largest banks responded by giving raises to thousands of works, who now make $15 per hour.

That wage, however, may continue to be just a dream for the workers still stuck at $10.10 an hour.

"I think everyone in Hawaii knows that's not enough to live on," said Woo.

California, New York and Washington, D.C. have all passed laws that will increase the minimum wage to $15 in the next few years.

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