State lawmakers are hoping to come up with minimum wage proposal that would stop battle over ballot measures.

Salem – State lawmakers received a sobering message Wednesday about their prospects of striking a legislative deal to hike Oregon’s minimum wage.

Petitioners for a ballot initiative to boost the minimum to $15 statewide by 2019 said they intend to continue gathering signatures to place their proposal on the November ballot unless lawmakers meet their demands.

Opponents to hiking the minimum indicated they’re gearing up to thwart the initiative.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have revealed no specific numbers for a potential deal and none were expected before a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Capitol. The lawmakers have just two weeks to before the legislative session starts Feb. 1.

Justin Norton-Kertson, campaign manager for Oregonians for $15, said the group has collected nearly 40,000 signatures for their ballot initiative and projects having 50,000 to 60,000 signatures by early March.

“We are well on track to have enough signatures collected by July to put this on the ballot,” Norton-Kertson said.

“With more than half of likely voters in Oregon already polling in favor $15 and numerous polls conducted statewide, a statewide $15 minimum wage really is inevitable,” he said. “It’s a grassroots movement, and it isn’t just going to go away because any old deal is struck in the state Legislature.”

He said the only compromises his group would support are $15 per hour in the most expensive parts of the state, namely Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, or a repeal of a law that prevents cities and counties from increasing minimum wages above the state limit.

“If one or both of these can’t be accomplished this session, then we’ll do everything we can to get the support needed to put IP 41 on the ballot and win,” Norton-Kertson said.

Betsy Earls of Associated Oregon Industries, which opposes boosting the minimum, advised lawmakers to spend their time on other issues.

“It sounds like … there will be at least one ballot measure going forward no matter what,” Earls said. “What I would say to you is we will have to fight that ballot measure probably so we will have to expend resources regardless of what you guys do. I would advise you to sit tight, do nothing.”

Lawmakers, the governor’s advisors and other stakeholders have been negotiating a minimum wage deal for weeks behind closed doors. Democratic leadership has indicated they want to pass legislation in February to head off a battle at the ballot box in November over two dueling initiatives to hike minimum wage. One is the $15 proposal. Another union-backed initiative would raise the minimum to $13.50 statewide and give cities and counties authority to increase the minimum above that. The petitioners for that initiative have said from the outset that they launched the campaign to spur lawmakers to action this session.

“We’re hoping to come up with a proposal that makes the most sense and addresses the most concerns and also makes the ballot measures unnecessary,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland. “We haven’t yet nailed down what that would be, the place between the competing interests.”

Dembrow had initially planned to release starting numbers for his proposal in advance of a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Capitol.

He said he had second thoughts about releasing numbers before the hearing because he wants to use feedback to craft a proposal for the session, which commences Feb. 1.

“I don’t’ want to come up with a proposal that is take it or leave it,” Dembrow said. “I want to propose something that has some consensus around it.”

Dembrow’s proposal would set three different regional minimums based on area median income and cost of living. The concept is based on research by North Star Civic Foundation that found different minimums would better suit Oregon’s “uneven state economy.”

The House Business and Labor Committee plans to submit a proposal that is similar to the initiative to boost the minimum to $13.50 and give cities and counties authority to raise wages above that threshold.

It was unclear whether Gov. Kate Brown also planned to present a separate proposal.

“The governor has been open about her support for raising the minimum wage and has been consulting stakeholders,” said Kristen Grainger, Brown’s communications director. “It is premature to say what a proposal might look like or when it might be unveiled.”

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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