Brian Bushweller, State Senator

17th District of Delaware

April, 2017

Minimum Wage

Because I am writing this for a March deadline, by the time you read it, the Senate will either have already voted on this year’s proposal to increase the minimum wage or will do so shortly.  Proposals to increase the minimum wage are always contentious and this year will be no different.  The issues range from the philosophical to the practical with good arguments on both sides.  I have taken a middle-of-the-road position on the matter, having supported one of the two proposals acted upon during my time in the Senate but having opposed the other.

The proposal I supported succeeded in the General Assembly and was signed into law by the Governor.  That proposal increased the wage over a two year period, culminating in a rate of $8.25 per hour as of June 1, 2015.  That is the rate in effect now.  Historically, Delaware has boosted the minimum wage every 4 to 6 years or so based on factors such as the overall health of the economy, the ability of small businesses to absorb the increase, the length of time since the last increase and so forth.

I did not support the other, more recent, proposed increase.  It passed the Senate (without my vote) but failed to pass the House so it was not enacted into law.  I believed then, as I do now, that it was too much, too soon.

This year’s proposal would raise the wage by 50 cents per year each year from 2017 to 2020, resulting in a new minimum in 2020 of $10.25.  After 2020, the proposal would then mandate an annual increase in the minimum wage based on increases in the cost of living.  It would also mandate that the Delaware minimum would automatically go up whenever the federal minimum exceeded the state minimum and then add the cost of living to that higher federal wage, as well.

Aside from the usual criteria the General Assembly uses to decide on increases, the automatic increases based on cost of living are a concern to many legislators.   I share that concern.  Such automatic increases mean that the wage would go up without further discussion or action by the Legislature even if all other factors suggest that it should not.  This removes the ability of the people, through their legislative representatives, to make informed decisions.

As the debate ensues over the next several weeks, I and other legislators will be looking at those traditional factors – economic health, ability to pay, time since the last increase, and so forth – that we usually consider.  Personally, I’m also aware of the reality that what the minimum wage does, at its core, is force businesses to pay whether doing so is good for their businesses or not and with no regard as to the affect the higher wage will have on their ability to employee the people they need.  The simple truth is that if government mandates a wage more than a job is worth or more than the employer can afford to pay, sooner or later that job will be gone.