There is much to like in what appears to be a reasonable Rhode Island House budget proposal for the state fiscal year that begins on July 1st. There were goodies for business, beach-goers, retirees on pensions and small business.
But one neglected area is those who work long hours at minimum wage jobs. The budget does modestly increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps working families, but it does not raise the minimum wage.
Rhode Island is falling further behind our neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts for low-wage workers. Rhode Island’s minimum wage is $9.60 per hour. In Massachusetts, that figure jumps to $11 in January. Connecticut has a minimum wage that increases to $10.10 in January. Vermont goes to $10 in 2017.
``I’m very disappointed,’’ said George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. ``But we will be continuing the fight.’’
The business community is always pointing to taxes, and lobbying for Rhode Island taxes to be in line with our New England neighbors. Well, what about minimum wages?
The risk for Rhode Island is that we lose the best of our low skill workers to Massachusetts. At a difference of $1.40 per hour, it obviously makes sense for workers, especially those on the east side of Narragansett Bay, to drive a few miles and get a job in Massachusetts. It will give companies in the Bay State the choice of the better employees.
It is sad to see the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce lobby against hiking the minimum wage. This business group supports all sorts of corporate welfare and tax breaks to help business.
Hopefully, the job market will be of help here. Maybe Rhode Island wages will rise because the higher Massachusetts rate forces Ocean State employers to pay better to attract better employees.