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Senate panel OKs more gradual minimum-wage hike

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Senate Finance Committee members Wednesday amended a bill that would increase West Virginia's minimum wage, to phase in the pay increase more slowly.

Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said the amendment -- which would provide a 25-cent an hour increase on Jan. 1, 2015; a 50-cent increase on Jan. 1, 2016; and a final 75-cent hike on Jan. 1, 2017 -- was a compromise agreed to by business and labor.

"We had folks in from both groups that were concerned about the House position," he said, "and this seemed to be the compromise between business and labor."

The House version of the bill (HB4283) would increase the existing $7.25 minimum wage to $8 on Jan. 1, 2015, and to $8.75 on Jan. 1, 2016.

On Wednesday, health-care lobbyist Raymona Kinneburg told senators the more rapid increase could cause low-income workers to lose federal benefits, including health-care coverage under Medicaid, food stamps and subsidies for day care.

People with household income at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level, as of this Jan. 1, became eligible for Medicaid coverage under the state program, which was expanded by the Tomblin administration as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

"If they're earning, say, 140 percent of the poverty level, they're going to have to pay more in the marketplace for their health care," said Kinneburg, who suggested many minimum-wage employees would instead cut their work hours to keep their benefits if they received a larger wage increase.

Those comments left Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, incredulous.

He said it apparently is a disincentive for minimum-wage employees to work hard and earn raises.

"It shows the system's broken," Unger said. "It's better for them to stay at a low wage so they can collect these benefits."

Jan Vineyard, representing the gas station and convenience store operators' organization OMEGA, said businesses are concerned because the House bill removes an exemption from the state minimum wage for companies involved in interstate commerce. Those businesses are required to pay the federal minimum wage, also $7.25 an hour.

"That was a game-changer," she said. She said business favors the slower phase-in, with 25 cents an hour in the first year.

"It doesn't shock us so much in the first year," Vineyard said.

The bill now goes to the full Senate.

Also Wednesday, the Finance Committee advanced a resolution for a constitutional amendment to allow the Boy Scouts of America to rent out portions of the Summit Bechtel Family Reserve complex in Fayette County for concerts, conferences, sporting events and other uses without losing its tax-exempt status for the 10,600-acre facility (HJR108).

If the Senate approves the resolution, the amendment will be a referendum on the November general election ballot.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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