SALT LAKE CITY – In the current general session of the Legislature, two Cache Valley lawmakers played a role in stalling a legislative proposal to raise Utah’s minimum wage.
Representatives Joel Ferry, R-District 1, and Casey Snider, R- District 5, are both members of the House Business and Labor Committee, where their votes on Feb. 25 made House Bill 284 deader than chivalry.
That proposal by Rep. Clare Collard, D-District 22, would have raised the state minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 an hour to $12 in July of this year and to $15 an hour by July of 2026.
Collard’s proposal mirrored a similar effort underway by Democrats in Congress to raised the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of President Joe Biden’s hotly debated $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.
In the Utah Legislature, however, Collard’s minimum wage proposal was tabled by a 10-to-3 party-line vote in the House Business and Labor Committee.
“I’m proud to say that I didn’t support that proposal,” Snider said during a recent virtual town hall sponsored by the Cache County GOP.
Snider points to fiscal analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office in Washington as his justification for opposing HB 284.
Recent data released by the CBO indicated that, while hiking the minimum wage to $15 nationwide would lift an estimated 900,000 workers above the federal poverty level, it would also result in the loss of up to 1.5 million entry- level jobs.
The CBO analysts base those estimates on prior experience with minimum wage hikes. When higher wages make the cost of providing goods and services more expensive, employers tend to pass those expenses on to consumers. If, as usual, consumers react by buying fewer goods and services, employers respond by reducing production and cutting back their work forces.
“That’s why I didn’t support that bill in committee,” Snider explained. “I don’t support that idea as a concept. The free market is able to provide incentives for wage levels, especially in a tight job market like ours over the last several years … So I think the free market is the solution to this problem, not a government mandate.”
Utah’s minimum wage has been set at $7.25 per hour since 2009. In her presentation to the House Business and Labor Committee, Collard said that enactment of HB 284 would directly benefit an estimated 19,000 Utahns currently earning salaries at minimum wage levels.
But representatives of business advocacy groups who also testified before the House committee argued that any significant increase in state or federal minimum wage levels would hurt small businesses, especially in rural areas of Utah.
In Congress, Sen. Mitt Romney has recently proposed a compromise to Biden’s minimum wage mandate called the Higher Wages of American Workers Act. That bill calls for a $10 federal minimum wage phased in gradually through 2025, with later increases indexed to inflation levels. Romney’s office argues that change would benefit approximately 3.5 million Americans while costing only 100,000 jobs nationwide.
But, like Snider, local lawmaker Joel Ferry opposes government meddling in private wage levels as a matter of principle.
“There are unintended consequences whenever the government get involved in the free market,” Ferry said during the GOP town hall event. “Determining wages and the value of labor? That’s not the government’s job.”
In his farming and ranching business, Ferry explained, he has to offer significantly higher pay than the state’s minimum wage to attract any workers.
“That’s just the free market saying that the demand (for labor) is high and the supply is low,” he added.
Ferry also emphasized that Utah is already facilitating its residents’ ability to achieve better lives through well-funded primary, secondary and higher education programs.
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there,” he argued, “including opportunity to become educated and acquire skills to improve your life, to get a better job and earn better pay.”
“So I voted against (Collard’s minimum wage proposal) as well … I don’t think that it’s the government’s job to be making those kinds of decisions for us.”