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House Speaker Tina KotekA group of Portland business leaders working quietly to shape the debate over an Oregon minimum wage hike has already had an impact.


Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, cited research by the North Star Civic Foundation while explaining this week why Oregon should increase the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour. The state’s minimum wage is currently the second highest in the nation, at $9.25 an hour. Another group is already gathering signatures to get a measure on the November ballot that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

New Seasons Market co-founder Stan Amy formed North Star Civic Foundation earlier this year with his wife Christy Eugenis, who is a partner in a real estate development company, and Rejuvenation Hardware founder Jim Kelly. The foundation is focused on finding solutions to income inequality and climate change.

New Seasons Market also jumped into the minimum wage debate, with the announcement last month the grocery store chain supports an unspecified increase in Oregon’s minimum wage but recognizes a $15 wage might be unsustainable in rural areas. The company also said it would increase its starting wage from $10 to $12 an hour.

Kotek said her support for a minimum wage hike to $13.50 was based on information provided by advocates who cited an online self-sufficiency calculator built by a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“If you look at the different communities, whether in Malheur County at Ontario or on the coast, by getting to $13 or $13.50 you are providing not only a lift out of poverty but also more ability to meet your basic needs,” Kotek said Sept. 28. “It won’t help everyone meet their basic needs, but it’s much better than where we are ... We already know that if you are working full-time at minimum wage you are living below the poverty line.”

Kotek said the Legislature should pass a minimum wage increase in the 2016 session that begins in February, and the starting point for legislation should be the proposed ballot measure a union-led coalition announced on Sept. 28: raising the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour, and lifting a preemption on local wage increases by cities and counties.

Kotek said it is important to eliminate the preemption because “a place like Portland, which has a much higher cost of living, needs to be higher.” Kotek said she received research supporting a higher minimum wage from multiple groups, but the one she remembered was “Caitlin Baggott’s group.”

Baggott is former executive director of the Portland get-out-the-vote nonprofit Bus Project and the current executive director of North Star Civic Foundation. The EO Media Group/Pamplin Media Group Capital Bureau reported over the summer the foundation arranged a statewide listening tour to learn what Oregonians think about the state’s minimum wage, which appeared to be an effort to develop a minimum wage proposal with support from rural areas as well as urban centers.

In documents provided by Kotek’s office, North Star Civic Foundation described the self-sufficiency standard as the wage level families require to meet their basic needs without government assistance such as Medicaid, childcare subsidies and public housing. The foundation noted that “a family of two adults and two school-age children living in Multnomah County needs to earn 20 percent more than a family of the same size living in a lower-cost, rural county ($24 compared with $19.25 in Linn County, using the Self Sufficiency Standard).”

New Seasons’ CEO Wendy Collie said in a press release last month the company is “hopeful that the 2016 legislative session will resolve this issue for the state of Oregon,” and Kotek said this week that is her goal.

“I think one of the top priorities for February will be the minimum wage discussion,” Kotek said. “I think you can craft better statewide policy on something like that if we do it here. But if we’re not able, it will go to the ballot.”

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