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My public policy wish for the holidays

My wish for the holidays is that public policy advocates, individuals and organizations from across the state join together in requesting that the Hawaii state legislature, upon the opening of the 2020 legislative session — reconvene the conference committee for HB1191 SD2, and promptly pass a strong minimum wage bill.

There has been plenty of time during the past six months for the House/Senate Conferees to come to an agreement.

The community should not be forced to go through the entire dog and pony show again, only to wind up at the same place.

The steps needed are simple and straightforward:

Legislative leadership must convene the existing House/Senate conference committee for HB1191 SD2 — increasing Hawaii’s minimum wage to $15 by 2023

The committee should then remove the “business/health/tax credit” component and delink this aspect of the legislation from the minimum wage increase component.

This “benefit to business” component is a separate issue and should be treated separately, and not used as an albatross around the necks of low income workers to further delay increasing the minimum wage

The committee should then amend HB1191 SD2 to include an annual cost of living adjustment plus (COLA+), modest additional annual increases to keep up with inflation “plus”, until eventually over time the minimum wage will equal a living wage.

The committee should then pass such a bill forward for a full vote on the floor of the House and Senate — prior to Jan. 31, 2020.

Anyone who works 40 hours per week deserves to earn a wage sufficient to provide a dry safe place to live, three meals a day, and basic health care.

Hawaii has the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the nation. Nearly 50% of our residents live in or near poverty.

The Department of Business and Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), says a single individual without children needs to earn at least $17.50 per hour just to subsist. Hawaii’s minimum wage sits now at only $10.10.

While minimum wage workers get nothing, legislators will get their raises as will the governor, the lieutenant governor and many other high-ranking government officials.

Business is booming also for just about everyone else. Tourism is at an all time high with visitor-counts at historic levels.

The economic forecast for the future is more of the same. According to the 4th Quarter 2019 QSER released by DBEDT on November 19, 2019, “Hawaii’s economy is expected to continue positive growth in 2019 and 2020. This outlook is based on the most recent developments in the national and global economies, the performance of Hawaii’s tourism industry, labor market conditions, and the growth of personal income and tax revenues.”

It seems everyone is doing better and making more money except for low income workers, whose wages are at best, flat.

Small businesses that fear negative impacts from having to increase their workers wages need only look at the recent history in Hawaii for reassurance.

When Hawaii’s minimum wage was increased from $7.25 to $10.10, nothing bad happened. There were no increases in bankruptcy, no increases in unemployment and no increases in inflation (outside the normal trend).

It is well past the time that minimum wage workers also share in the economic growth, the rest of Hawaii is benefiting from.

A strong majority of legislators including their leadership have in the past stated publicly and in writing their support for increasing Hawaii’s minimum wage to at least a $15 per hour.

These legislators should be given the opportunity to vote publicly for something they all profess to support.

Please join me in calling upon the Legislature to do the right thing, and do it in January.

•••

Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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