Should Washington regionalize its minimum wage rate?

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Eastern Washington is different from Western Washington in many ways. Each region has different priorities, different economic conditions, and different ways of life. However, too often, decisions made by the state Legislature don't adequately take into account the effects various policies have on rural communities throughout Washington.

Right now, our governor is calling for major tax increases largely based on the exceptional economic generation of the Puget Sound region. Although it's possible higher-earning residents around Seattle can take on the additional tax burden, residents and job creators in our area simply cannot afford them.

If we truly are “One Washington,” our policies need to reflect the diversity of our state.

It's no secret the cost of living in Seattle varies greatly from the cost of living in communities like Prosser, Dayton, and Waitsburg. For perspective, the median household income in King County is just under $90,000. The median household income in Columbia or Benton counties is roughly between $40,000 and $60,000. 

Yet, every county, regardless of cost of living, operates under the same state minimum wage rate, which is currently $12 an hour and will increase to $13.50 next year. This kind of blanket policy seems unfair to employers and employees in counties that are still recovering from economic crisis.

That's why I'm pursuing legislation that would study regionalizing Washington state's minimum wage rate.

Other states are doing this. In New York, rates vary based on geographical location and, in New York City, employer size. And our neighbors to the south in Oregon have a Portland metro rate different from the rest of the state.

I truly believe local governments often times are best at determining which policies would be of the greatest benefit to their constituents. In fact, that's why cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Sea-Tac passed laws to raise their local minimum wage before voters acted in 2016 to raise the state rate.

That said, the Legislature must exercise caution as we consider artificially valuing labor with an arbitrary minimum wage – regionalized or not.

The market naturally determines the value of labor. When government artificially increases that value, other market adjustments must be made. So, while increased wages may benefit some workers in the short term, they may have unintended consequences in the long term. Of particular concern are increased prices for consumers, especially those on fixed incomes that don't auto-adjust with higher costs for goods and services. There is also the risk of potential layoffs, loss of hours, and business closures.

I can't speak for businesses and workers in Seattle, but I work to be a voice for the job creators, employees, and consumers of the 16th Legislative District. We should do more to develop skills through educational attainment as a means to higher pay, not artificially inflated wages.

As I continue to work on this study proposal, I want to hear from you. I encourage you to reach out to me by visiting my website at RepresentativeSkylerRude.com. I can also be reached by phone at (360) 786-7828 or by email at Skyler.Rude@leg.wa.gov.

Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, was sworn in Jan. 14 as the newest representative for the 16th Legislative District. He serves as an assistant ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, and is a member of the House College and Workforce Development, Education, and Rules committees.

State Representative Skyler Rude, 16th Legislative District
RepresentativeSkylerRude.com
122G Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
skyler.rude@leg.wa.gov
360-786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000