- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon lawmakers on Tuesday held their first public hearing on Gov. Kate Brown’s scaled-back minimum wage proposal, and it immediately ran into criticism.

Legislators met at the Capitol in a room packed with union officials, business people, residents, local government leaders and others wanting to weigh in on whether Oregon’s $9.25 hourly minimum wage should be increased, by how much and where, and over what period of time.

Brown revised her earlier minimum wage hike proposal on Friday by calling for smaller increases that would be implemented sooner, a move she made in response to continued complaints from stakeholders who argue the measure would hurt small businesses, cost jobs and hamper rural economies.

But opposition remained strong at Tuesday’s Senate Committee on Workforce and General Government hearing, despite Brown’s revisions.

Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist told the committee his county won’t go along with any wage increases if the Legislature doesn’t dole out extra funding to cover the added costs.

“We think, based on the Constitution, we’re not required to participate, and we will likely not do so,” said Nyquist, adding the county’s position has been vetted by legal counsel.

Ted Reutlinger, chief deputy legislative counsel for the Office of Legislative Counsel, confirmed Nyquist’s assertions. Reutlinger said there is a certain portion in the state’s Constitution that essentially would allow Linn County to “opt out” of a wage increase imposed by the Legislature if it doesn’t pass with a three-fifths majority vote and with additional funding appropriated for local agencies.

“This section only applies to laws adopted by the legislature,” he said.

So if the minimum wage was instead raised by voters through a ballot initiative, he said, Linn County and others would be forced to comply.

Proponents of raising the minimum wage told lawmakers they appreciated Brown’s efforts because, at the end of the day, any immediate increase is meaningful to working-class families trying to make ends meet. However, they said they still weren’t sure whether the revised plan is enough to thwart two more aggressive proposals for the November ballot, one of which would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019 and the other to $13.50 by 2018.

Brown’s scaled-back alternative proposal would slightly raise the minimum to $9.75 statewide starting in July. By 2022, the Portland area’s minimum would be $14.50 and the rest of the state at $13.25.

Representatives of Brown’s office were unable to answer the committee’s questions on certain specifics of the revised plan, such as how metro Portland’s higher minimum would apply to workers and businesses operating throughout Oregon.

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