Pennsylvania Auditor General DePasquale calls for state minimum wage hike

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State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has joined the chorus of Democratic voices calling for an increase in Pennsylvania's minimum wage.

Mr. DePasquale, the state's fiscal watchdog, said in an appearance at the Allegheny County Courthouse that making hourly wages greater than $7.25 would boost the state's economy and provide an alternative way to help state government's long-ailing bottom line.

Gov. Tom Corbett and fellow Republicans controlling the General Assembly have shown no appetite for raising the minimum wage, in line with opposition by business groups. But Mr. DePasquale, a former state House member from York County, predicted it would gain bipartisan support if leadership dared put it up for a vote.

"I believe if it came up in the House and Senate it would pass. I think this is a very hard thing to vote against," Mr. DePasquale said Wednesday.

Democrats in the state House introduced legislation last month that would bump pay to $9 an hour 60 days after their bill is approved and one year later raise it to $10.10 hourly.

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry argued that the change would imperil small businesses hiring hourly workers. The president of the Pennsylvania Business Council, David Patti, pointed to a host of other problems with raising the wage, from it depressing other raises, causing consumer prices to jump, to hurting the state's competitive image. It could even block the wage increases most entry-level employees get after proving themselves, he argued.

"The argument made by economists is that minimum wage is really a training wage and increasing that wage would reduce the number of entry-level/training wage positions available -- making it that much more difficult to one day enter the workforce," Mr. Patti said in an email.

"While minimum wage proponents are correct in their assertion that increasing the minimum wage will mean that some people receive a raise, the reality is that others will lose their job or see their hours reduced," the Business and Industry chamber's president Gene Barr said last month, "and some low-skilled workers will lose out on the opportunity to get their foot in the door."

At Wednesday's news conference, Mr. DePasquale agreed that some could lose their jobs in upheaval over raising the wage but said overall most employees would be better off. Unemployment did not spike after the state last raised the wage in 2006, he argued, and the Pennsylvania needs to keep pace with neighbors Ohio and New Jersey, which are both boosting theirs next year.

"I believe the benefits outweigh the potential negative consequences," Mr. DePasquale said.

A National Journal poll released Tuesday found 71 percent of respondents nationwide supported boosting the federal minimum wage (also set at $7.25), with only 28 percent saying the increase could hurt the economy and nearly half saying it would give business a lift.

Timothy McNulty:, 412-263-1581.

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