Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Senator Cantwell: Washington State's Working Families Deserve Better

(Note from the Executive Director: On behalf of all of us at the Northwest Progressive Institute, it gives me great pleasure to welcome Senator Maria Cantwell to the Official Blog. We are deeply honored that she is sharing her perspective with our readers in this special guest post.).

I grew up in a working family – a family with five kids. Our parents worked hard and we worked hard alongside them.

With the help of financial aid, I was the first person in my family to go to college. Without it, I couldn't have afforded to go to school. But even the aid didn't go far enough to cover all of my costs, so I bartended too. And it was hard, tough work.

I know how important a living wage job is and what a fine line there is between making enough to get by and making enough to plan ahead for your family's future.

I cannot support what amounts to a minimum wage penalty for over 122,000 Washington minimum wage earners. Why would the federal government work to lower the maximum wage rather than setting a minimum protection?

I am not buying this cynical Republican ploy.

It isn't, however, the first time Republicans have tried to convince us that we can't have strong businesses and a living wage. In Washington State we have been proving them wrong for almost a decade. In 1998, Washingtonians overwhelmingly voted to raise our minimum wage for every worker to one of the highest in the country, and our economy continues to thrive. Why would we change course now?

There is a better choice than what the Republicans offered – we can increase the minimum wage fairly for all working families and we can do it without penalizing Washington and six other states for already doing right by our citizens. I've been working in Congress to increase the minimum wage, because I know that Washington State's example shows how we can do much better for all our working families. We should not settle for anything less.

But instead of doing what's right, instead of doing what they ought to – the Senate Republican leadership made a different choice. And that choice is wrong for Washington State.

So here are the cold hard facts on why I am voting to protect the Washington State minimum wage.

The Republican proposal is a bait and switch. They wrote the language so that it preempts our state law. What they're calling a minimum wage increase is in fact a minimum wage penalty for 122,810 workers.

The Republican proposal would cut these workers minimum hourly wage by $5.50. That means workers who earn $7.63 an hour plus tips could see their wages drop to $2.13 an hour plus tips.

The Republican plan directly targets Washington families already struggling just to get by. Many of the workers who would be most affected are already juggling multiple jobs just to make ends meet. These workers' average annual income is only $16,000. That's the poverty line for a family of three. The Republican proposal cuts these workers' income to $4,400 annually plus tips.

I hope Republicans are ready to start leaving really big tips on the table for those workers to help them make up the difference.

When America's families are facing rising prescription drug costs, tuition rates, and gas prices, how can we take money away from those who are barely getting by?

The Republican leadership in Washington D.C., just keeps making choices that are wrong for Washington State. Rather than making it harder for some Americans to afford basic necessities, we should be working to make health care, education, and energy more affordable.

They've refused to put that agenda on the table and Washington State's working families deserve better.

Senator Maria Cantwell

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