Minimum wage hike bill fails in Senate

Sen. Brian Bushweller

DOVER — The Senate defeated a $1 minimum wage increase Tuesday, falling one vote short of passage. Sen. Brian Bushweller, a Dover Democrat, was the deciding vote, and his decision to abstain ensured the bill’s defeat.

Afterward, he indicated he would be willing to reconsider his vote if legislators pass some form of relief for the state’s three casinos.

“If we fix the casino issue, that certainly takes away one of the major reasons that I opposed an increase in the minimum wage right now,” Sen. Bushweller said. “I’ve always said that one of the factors we need to always look at with regard to minimum wage is the current economic circumstances here in Delaware surrounding Delaware businesses.

“Especially with regard to the casino industry, one of those circumstances is that we take so much money away from the casino industry that it might very well put one or more casinos out of business if we raise the minimum wage udner the current casino taxation system. So, if we fix that, then that removes one of the impediments at least in my mind to raising the minimum wage.”

Legislation that would lower the casinos’ tax rates was tabled in the Senate Finance Committee last week.

The amended minimum wage measure would have raised the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $9.25 in two 50-cent increments. It was originally more ambitious, proposing to hike the wage to $10.25 in four increments and afterward tie it to the federal cost-of-living adjustment, but the main sponsor made changes in an effort to make the bill more palatable.

It still wasn’t enough.

All nine Republicans present voted against the proposal, while 10 of 11 Democrats supported it. Minority Leader Gary Simpson, a Milford Republican, was absent, but his presence would not have changed anything — he is opposed to the increase.

Sen. Robert Marshall, a Wilmington Democrat who is the lead sponsor of the bill, said he wanted to get a vote on the record and may introduce another measure to raise the minimum wage before June 30.

Sen. Bushweller’s decision to abstain was “somewhat disappointing,” he said.

Gov. John Carney supports an increase in the minimum wage, and the official Delaware Democratic Party platform calls for raising the minimum wage to $15.

Delaware’s minimum wage of $8.25, $1 more than what the federal government mandates, went into effect nearly three years ago. Twenty-three states have higher minimum wages.

Sen. Marshall attempted to boost the minimum wage in the prior General Assembly session, with legislation raising it to $10.25 in several steps passing the Senate but failing in a House committee in 2016.

Debate Tuesday was limited, likely a result of senators wanting to get home before the scheduled snow and knowing where everyone stood on the issue.

Sen. Marshall argued the measure will help lift Delawareans out of poverty, noting about 43,000 people working in the state make less than $9.25.

“I would urge that we pass the bill for those that need that additional income,” he said. “They’re going to show up to work every day, they’re a significant foundation of our economy and a variety of different parts of our economy and it would be a recognition of their time, their work effort and their contribution to the economy of our state.”

Republicans countered the measure will simply cause prices to go up and result in businesses laying people off due to increased labor costs.

“So, when one hand goes up the other one goes up, so the real income doesn’t change. In fact, it goes down,” Sen. Dave Lawson, a Marydel Republican, said.

The state should let the market decide wages, Republicans said.

The bill is opposed by many companies and business organizations.

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