Saturday, July 15, 2006

Rendell's minimum wage follies

Gov. Ed Rendell recently signed a bill raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania.

Rendell said the higher wage will help 420,000 Pennsylvania residents who are earning minimum wage. Rendell says a lot of things that have little to do with reality.

Do you know anyone earning minimum wage? Teenagers working at burger joints are in such demand that they often start at a salary much higher than the minimum wage.

I picked up a Sunday newspaper and looked through the help wanted section. There wasn't a single listing for a minimum wage job. But there were dozens of job ads seeking unskilled help for starting salaries almost twice the current minimum wage of $5.15 per hour.

A pharmaceutical company is hiring assemblers and light packers for $9.50 per hour. A cleaning company is willing to pay $8 to $10 for workers. One firm is seeking packers at $10.95 an hour. Another firm is seeking clerical help at $10. Foundry workers will be trained starting at $10 per hour. Another company is looking for machine operators, material handlers and laborers and is willing to pay a starting salary of $11.50. All this in just one medium-size newspaper that serves one county.

Where are those 400,000 workers that Rendell is trying to help and why can't he point them to the jobs paying $10.00 per hour? Has Rendell considered paying for a subscription to the local newspaper for these folks? It will be a lot cheaper than forcing employers to raise salaries.

And why did Rendell wait four years into his term as governor to help these people? Didn't these people need the higher salaries in 2003 or 2004 or 2005? Does it have anything to do with 2006 being an election year?

And don't start with the tired argument that the state legislature is controlled by Republicans so Rendell couldn't get the higher minimum wage bill passed.

When Rendell wanted to raise the state income tax by $1 billion in 2003, he had no problem finding Republicans to go along.

When Rendell wanted to bring 51,000 slot machines to Pennsylvania in 2004, he found plenty of Republican legislators to pass the bill.

When Rendell wanted to raise the salaries of Harrisburg politicians in 2005, he found enough legislators awake at 2 a.m. to get the job done.

Same goes for Rendell's tax rebate plan for low-income seniors that was recently approved by the legislature or Rendell's exorbitant $26 billion budget for the new fiscal year that increases state spending at twice the rate of inflation.

If Rendell wants something passed, he has enough Republican lackeys in the legislature to do it. Which brings us back to my original question. Is there any connection between the passage of a higher minimum wage with the fact that Rendell and most of the legislature face the voters less than four months from now?

Assuming there really are 400,000 Pennsylvania workers earning minimum wage, here's another problem I have with Rendell's plan to help them pay for basic necessities.

If these people are struggling to put food on the table today, why make them wait until 2007 or 2008 to collect the higher wage?

Under the bill Rendell signed, Pennsylvania's minimum wage will rise to $6.25 an hour on Jan. 1, 2007, then to $7.15 an hour on July 1, 2007. But the increase will be delayed for employers with 10 or fewer full-time employees (although franchises of larger chains will not qualify for that exemption). Employers that fall under the new law will pay $5.65 an hour beginning Jan. 1, 2007; $6.65 beginning July 1, 2007; and $7.15 on July 1, 2008.

When the Pennsylvania legislature gave its own members, the state's judges and the governor pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent, legislators started collecting the pay raise right away. And they took the money despite a provision in the state constitution that says legislators can't collect a pay raise during their current term.

Hundreds of legislators who were making a base salary of $69,000 -- much higher than the minimum wage -- felt compelled to violate the state constitution and collected their pay raise within weeks of the July 7, 2005, vote. The pay raise that Rendell signed into law last year was eventually repealed, but some 70 legislators still refuse to give back the money they took during the four months the raise was in place. In some cases, those politicians made more in four months than a worker making minimum wage earns in an entire year.

Do you sense duplicity in what Rendell says and does? If Pennsylvania workers want to see a real increase in their standard of living, they need to boot out a tax-and-spend liberal like Ed Rendell.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

No comments: