Senate kills Dance’s wage bill

Floor vote to raise the state’s minimum wage fell strictly along party lines

RICHMOND — In a move not necessarily seen as a surprise, the state Senate voted straight down party lines to defeat legislation that would have raised Virginia’s minimum wage in increments from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour by 2021.

The 21-19 vote fell completely along party lines, with Republicans opposing it and Democrats supporting it. Among those voting against it was Senate Majority leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. of James City County, who previously supported the measure to get it out of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee and onto the Senate floor, where he then spoke against it.

Republicans have maintained that raising the wage — to $10 per hour by July 2019, to $13 per hour by July 2020 and to $15 per hour by July 2021 — would be a back-breaker to many small business owners in Virginia. State-based business lobbyists also had opposed the bill.

Norment claimed proponents’ arguments to raise the bill were based on “emperical, not practical data.” He cited a study by the state Department of Human Resource Management that claimed raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would mean an annual dettrimental impact of $20 million in Virginia.

The bill’s supporters maintained that the hourly rate of $7.25 was too low for many workers, particularly in the lower- and middle-income ranges, to be able to provide for their families.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg, said she held “no disillusions” about the legislation’s fate, but she had hoped “there would be enough good people [in the Senate] to realize that $7.25 an hour is not enough for workers to better themselves.” Dance said Virginians elected them to do what was right, and raising the wage was the right thing to do for the state’s workers.

“It starts with us,” Dance told her colleagues.

Dance was among a string of Democrats, mostly from Northern Virginia, who cited messages from constituents urging the raise. Dance and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, read letters from home-based caregivers who said they strive to provide the best service they can for their clients. Dance read a letter from a caregiver in Hopewell saying that “home care is more than just a job,” but the pay “is way too little.”

Northern Virginia Democrats, led by Richard Saslaw of Fairfax County, argued for the hike because they said the Virginia wage is lower than 29 states and the District of Columbia. Saslaw said if a business owner’s plan says it cannot pay employees adequate wages, “then you’re definitely not the next Warren Buffett.”

Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Rockingham, an economist, said no one is morally against raising wages, but the legislation more than doubles the minimum wage in Virginia, and that would contribute to a drying-up of job opportunities.

“We can’t override the laws of economics,” Obenshain, said, citing that if the price for supply goes up, then the demand goes down. “Businesses are going to employ less people.”

Following the vote, Dance said she was “thankful” for the bipartisan vote to get her bill onto the floor, and “disappointed” that it failed along party lines. But she added she will not give up on pushing for a wage increase.

“I will be bringing this bill back next year with hopefully a more favorable outcome,” Dance said.