Raise the wage threshold but don’t put it on autopilot

Gov. Schwarzenegger believes the time has come for California to raise the
minimum wage. However, as the governor has said before, putting future
increases on autopilot is a dangerous mistake. The philosophy of automatic
spending almost bankrupted California’s treasury, and it would be wrong to
push that same foolish concept on the private sector. The governor is taking
a responsible, principled stand and we should not deny working families an
increase in the name of political gamesmanship.

The governor first announced his desire for an increase in the minimum wage
in his State of the State address in January. The administration bill to
increase the minimum wage was carried by Senator Abel Maldonado, but it
failed to pass the Legislature.

Even though the governor made it very clear that he felt an increase in the
minimum wage was needed but believed putting future increases on autopilot
would be dangerously unacceptable, the Legislature moved two bills forward
that would require automatic increases–essentially risking vetoes at the
expense of California’s minimum-wage workers.

Realizing that some in the Legislature would risk the opportunity to
increase the minimum wage, the governor requested the Industrial Welfare
Commission (IWC) to consider raising it independent of the Legislature and
without its dangerous demand for putting future increases on autopilot. The
fact is, the IWC has been responsible for most of the increases in the
minimum wage during California’s history. The Legislature has been
responsible for none. True, the Legislature did defund the IWC and it has
not had its own budget for the past year or more. But more importantly, the
Legislature did not repeal the labor-code sections that charge it with its
mandatory two-year review of the minimum wage. That responsibility remains
intact much like many other unfunded legislative mandates that are handled
by state agencies every day.

Once the governor petitioned the IWC on May 18 to perform its minimum-wage
review, staff was provided from a sister agency to provide support to the
IWC’s efforts. New members were appointed to fill expired labor, management
and public slots, and the entire commission met on Friday, June 2, to
consider the requests by Gov. Schwarzenegger and Senator Maldonado. The
wheels of the IWC are now in motion.

The IWC process is a deliberative one that is open to the public at every
turn. As one might expect, when critics cannot attack the validity of a
proposal, they will attack the process. And those who want indexing over
everything else emerged at the June 2 meeting, attempting to cast doubt on
the legitimacy of the IWC. Oddly, some of those same critics submitted their
own petitions to the IWC, thereby validating the IWC process.

Whether the minimum wage is increased by the independent IWC, as petitioned
by the Governor, or through a legislative compromise, as was hinted at by
legislative leaders, remains yet to be seen. The IWC will move forward in
its deliberative process as it is mandated to do by the Legislature. And all
along the way, whether via the IWC process or the legislative process, it is
important to remember that the wages of California’s lowest paid workers
hang in the balance.

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