SALEM — House Speaker Tina Kotek unveiled a proposal Monday to gradually raise Oregon's statewide minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2018 and give local governments the right to go higher if they choose.
The change would give Oregon the nation's highest minimum wage Jan. 1, when all workers would have to be paid at least $11 an hour, up from the current $9.25. The wage floor would go up $1 a year until it hits $13 an hour in 2018.
Coming less than a month before lawmakers must wrap up the legislative session, Kotek's proposal is a longshot. She said she hopes to at least start a debate that can continue after lawmakers leave Salem. Kotek also acknowledged that raising the minimum wage is viewed skeptically by some of her fellow Democrats in the Senate.
"It's hard when people are really scraping to get by and we're not taking up important issues," said Kotek, a Portland Democrat. "So I'm just trying to make sure this important issue is still there by the end of session."
Kotek said raising the minimum wage statewide would get low-income workers across the state closer to a sustainable wage while allowing jurisdictions with higher costs, like Portland, go further.
Business interests and Republicans object to raising the minimum wage or lifting the pre-emption, which prohibits local governments from setting their own pay requirements.
"They do not have a bookkeeper full time," said Jan Meekcoms, Oregon state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a small business lobby group. "They do not have an HR department. The administrative nightmare of keeping track of all this, in different jurisdictions with different wages, would be horrific."
Advocates of raising the minimum wage have proposed a ballot measure setting it at $15 statewide. Justin Norton-Kertson of the group 15 Now PDX, which proposed the ballot measure, said he welcomed Kotek's proposal. If her bill were to pass, the group of labor and liberal groups pushing for the increase would decide whether to continue pushing a ballot measure to reach $15.