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San Diego representatives loomed large Thursday as California legislators approved a bill to raise the minimum wage to a highest-in-the-nation $15 an hour by 2022.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez aided the bill’s speedy march through the Capitol, marshaling it yesterday through the Appropriations Committee in her first test as head of that powerful body.
Oceanside Republican Rocky Chavez, meanwhile, said the law contradicted the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, and warned it would send the state into economic ruin.
The bill passed the Assembly on a 48-26 vote and moved immediately into the Senate, where it passed 26-12. Gov. Jerry Brown announced soon after he would sign it on Monday.
Brown announced the measure earlier in the week after he and legislators behind the scenes crafted a compromise between two competing proposals, ensuring it won’t be on the November ballot and adding potential delays into the increase schedule if the economy falters.
“We have an opportunity in this state to show the country that putting more money in the hands of working poor people can make a difference,” said speaker emeritus Toni Atkins during the floor debate. “We are doing this to try to equalize the playing field.”
Most Democrats were sanguine about the outcome prior to the vote, but Republicans staged strong opposition.
Chavez warned the bill, “goes against the 13th Amendment,” which abolished slavery, by involving the government in the issue of pay, which he suggested is best left to the private sector.
“(I)t’s clear that we do have inequality in the state of California,” said Chavez. But, “I’m going to go in a different direction … Just because there is a problem in society does it always require that government will be the solution to the problem?”
Chavez said the legislature should focus on education if it wants to address economic inequality. He recommended the state invest in adult, technical and other educational programs rather than raise the minimum wage.
“California will be on a road similar to the country of Greece,” he said, referring to the country’s recent economic meltdown.
Atkins said a minimum wage increase isn’t a “panacea … but I think in the context of everything else we are trying to do for our constituents, it is a piece.”
She also defended the state, saying it pursues business-friendly policies too, like economic investments in San Diego including the film tax credit and help for the aerospace industry.
But Atkins said much of the issue for her came down to personal experience. She said her mother worked multiple minimum wage jobs when Atkins was young.
“Today let me just say as someone who would have loved to spend more time with my mom and my dad…I think what we are doing is trying to help individuals who would like not to work two and three jobs.”
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber gave a passionate speech centering on the idea that minimum wage for many is a lifelong wage, and one that doesn’t cover basic costs of food and shelter.
“For a vast majority of people who live, work and die in minimum wage, this is it,” she said. “This is what they are going to make to support themselves and their families.”
Gonzalez rejected arguments that minimum wage workers were largely entry-level and young employees who would be harmed by reduced jobs. She said 96 percent of minimum wage workers are adults, and often consider their jobs long-term rather than starting positions.
“These are the careers of folks who live in my district,” she said. “People whose career is to serve hamburgers at McDonald’s or to clean toilets at a hotel … and people are proud of their work.”
She dismissed concerns the bill moved through the legislature too fast, as many representatives said it was a “back room deal” made without input from the general legislator and without time to speak to constituents.
“It’s OK that I didn’t sit at that table,” she said. “I can still say it’s a good deal.”
During the packed hearing before her committee a day earlier, Gonzalez showed she intends to be a strong chairwoman, cutting off commentary when it went longer than her patience could stretch.
That included urging Santee Assemblyman Brian Jones to wrap it up when he voiced his opposition to the bill.
Jones, who brought his 16- and 20-year-old sons to the meeting, said the bill would hurt young workers like them because entry-level jobs would disappear under the higher wage.
He called the bill a business killer for the state and questioned why it was moving forward so quickly.
“We’re telling the economy what you can and cannot do,” he warned. “The point of this legislation is to help the people at the lowest economic level…how did you help those … who no longer have jobs?”
A representative from the San Diego Chamber of Commerce also spoke against the bill.