- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

RICHMOND — Virginia Democrats yesterday proposed a plan that would boost the state’s minimum wage to $7.25 per hour by 2009, the first such raise since 1997.

Hourly pay would first go from $5.15 to $6.15 in 2008, before rising again the next year.

Right now, someone who works full time for minimum wage makes $10,712 before taxes — well below the poverty line for the average family. About 450,000 Virginians work for minimum wage.

“We need to share the wealth,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat. “It’s an issue of simple fairness.”

The federal minimum wage also is $5.15. About two dozen states have minimum wages higher than that, including six where minimum wage increases were approved in November.

This is the Democrats’ second recent attempt at a minimum wage increase; legislation proposed earlier this year raising the minimum wage in three annual $1 increments failed.

Encouraged by November’s U.S. Senate race victory, Democrats are taking another stab at the measure, Mrs. Whipple said.

“Democratic issues are resonating in the state,” Mrs. Whipple said. “Maybe Republicans will start rethinking some of the issues.”

But Delegate Harvey B. Morgan, Gloucester Republican, worried the raise would hurt the state’s business-friendly reputation.

He cited Forbes magazine, which has rated Virginia a “Best State for Business.” The magazine included labor costs as part of its criteria in determining the rating.

“Virginia is constantly competing with other Southern states for businesses that provide jobs,” he said. “Like Virginia, most of those states conform their minimum wage rates to the federal government’s.”

Critics of wage increases often argue they lead to higher prices for goods and force companies to cut low-skilled jobs to reduce overhead.

But Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat and leader of the House Democratic Caucus, argued an increase would stimulate Virginia’s economy by putting more spending money in the pockets of workers.

It could also make the state on par with its neighbors: Maryland’s minimum wage is $6.15, North Carolina’s wage will rise to $6.15 next year and West Virginia’s will go from $5.85 this year to $6.55 next year and $7.25 in 2008.

The minimum wage in Kentucky and Tennessee is $5.15.

The proposal comes as the new Democratic majority promises similar measures when it takes power in Congress next month.

Mr. Moran said lawmakers here hope to leapfrog the federal effort, which could be stalled.

“We still have a Republican president,” he said. “We want to take action now.”

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