SALT LAKE CITY — Despite backers saying raising the minimum wage is another tool to combat poverty and homelessness, two bills to raise worker pay failed in the House Business and Labor Committee.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored HB117, which would have increased the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.25 this year and then to $12 in 2022, and HB118 to raise the minimum wage for tipped employees to $3.25. It is currently $2.13.
The last time Utah's general minimum wage increased was the last time the federal minimum wage went up in 2009.
"Increasing the hourly wage is necessary to provide stability and security for hard-working families," King said during Thursday's hearing. "It also ensures that the wealth created by our unprecedented growth in Utah will be shared fairly.”
King mentioned the numerous initiatives to help low-income Utahns, from creating affordable housing to removing the sales tax on groceries to intergenerational poverty tax credits. King said he is a small-business owner himself and he has always tried to pay his employees a wage that would allow them to make ends without relying on handouts from the government.
“The Legislature talks of wanting to reduce entitlement programs and shrink the size and scope of the government. But when we allow employers to deny families financial independence, it is ultimately the state who is forced to step in and subsidize those employers who keep profits from their employees,” King said.
But a coalition of small-business owners spoke against the bills.
Candace Daly, representing the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said that annual wage growth is at its highest levels now since 2009 and urged the committee to allow the labor market to drive up wages on its own. She said there is a labor shortage and employers will offer higher wages to attract workers.
Kate Bradshaw, representing the Utah Food Industry Association and the Utah Retail Merchants Association, agreed that the labor market is tight and asked the committee not to increase the cost of doing business in Utah. If they did, Bradshaw said, businesses would find ways to reduce the costs that may not benefit laborers.
A slew of affordable housing and living wage advocates spoke in favor of the bills, with many representatives speaking up from Utah Fair Wages and the Utah Housing Coalition. The point was repeated many times that a household making the current minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment at a fair market price.
Committee member Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, pointed out that a person working full time at a wage of $10.10 is only making $21,008 a year, which is near the poverty line.
"And we're not even there," she said, referencing Utah's current minimum wage.
The committee voted 12-2 against sending the general minimum wage increase to the House and 10-2 against raising the minimum wage for tipped workers.