Commissioners tell governor they won’t follow planned wage hike

Sean C. Morgan

The Linn County Board of Commissioners is telling the state that it will not participate in Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed minimum wage hike.

The board sent a letter to the governor last week outlining the board’s position.

“The governor has said they’re going to pass this minimum wage bill,” said Commissioner John Lindsey.

Brown announced her plan on Jan. 14, and the plan will be debated during the 2016 legislative session beginning this week.

“The costs of essentials such as food, child care and rent are rising so fast that wages can’t keep up,” Brown said. “Many Oregonians working full time can’t make ends meet, and that’s not right.”

The proposal calls for a two-tiered system rising gradually over six years to allow the state’s businesses time to plan. The minimum wage would be higher in the Portland metropolitan area, where the economy is growing faster and has traditionally been stronger than in the rest of the state.

Outside of the Portland Metro Urban Growth Boundary, the wage will be raised to $10.25 per hour in 2017 and increased to $13.50 by 2022. Within the Portland Metro Urban Growth Boundary, the wage will be set at 15 percent above the statewide minimum wage, increasing to $15.52 by 2022.

After 2022, the minimum wage will return to its current rate of increase based on the Consumer Price Index.

The Linn County Board of Commissioners ran the numbers, Lindsey said. It would cost Linn County $2.25 million per year. Across the state, it would cost public agencies $450 to $500 million per year.

On Jan. 29, Brown issued another statement updating her proposal.

“Based on feedback from stakeholders, I have refined my proposal, beginning implementation in 2016, so workers get higher pay sooner, and extending the glide path to give businesses more time to prepare for higher wages,” said Governor Brown. Instead, she is calling for a higher minimum wage to begin in July, six months earlier than originally proposed. Statewide, the minimum wage would increase to $9.75 and rise to $13.25 by 2022. In Portland, the minimum wage would start at $9.75 and increase to $14.50 by 2022. Afterward, they would continue increasing based on CPI.

“We believe the various proposals being considered are financially irresponsible,” the commissioners said in a letter signed by each – Lindsey, Roger Nyquist and Will Tucker. The commissioners also believe it is unconstitutional.

“We are not in a financial position to pay the increased costs associated with the proposed legislation of the minimum wage program.”

“We have a lot of part-time employees that work in our parks and roads,” Lindsey said. Temporary election workers, many of whom are retired, are paid minimum wage.

“If they increase the minimum wage to the level she’s proposing, it will also increase above the bottom level of some of our (full-time permanent) workers,” Lindsey said. The county’s three labor unions will seek additional increases if the higher minimum wage is approved.

The county has put state lawmakers on notice with its letter, Lindsey said. The state constitution prohibits unfunded mandates on local governments. The state would not provide funding to the county to cover the increase, which makes it an unfunded mandate.

The commissioners contend that the county is free to ignore the minimum wage increase, and in any sector where the county competes, private businesses can ignore it as well. That includes forestry, landscaping, restaurants, parks, RV parks, entertainment, counseling services and convention services.

“We’ve not heard any conversations addressing the fiscal impacts of the governor’s proposal on state and local government or any discussion on how to avoid a violation of Article IX Section 15 of the Constitution, which you took an oath to uphold,” the commissioners said in their letter. “Based on the lack of financial consideration by the governor to provide funding for such a mandate, local government would not be required to comply with any minimum wage increase passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.

“Based on both the state Constitution and the lack of financial resources to pay for a minimum wage increase, we request that you forego taking action on a minimum wage package in the upcoming 2016 session.”

County Attorney Gene Karandy concurred with their opinion, that a local government does not have to comply with a state law or administrative rule that requires expenditure of money by the local government if the state has not appropriated funds to reimburse the local government for costs incurred in carrying out the law or rule.

He agreed that by extension that local businesses competing with the local government would not have to comply either.