Continuing in our ride through the fact-filled world on the Wayback machine, we find ourselves ten years later, after the disastrous I-518 raised the minimum wage by almost 100% over two years.  We remember, the tumbleweeds blowing across Bellevue Square, the rotting structures at the empty Seattle Center, the frozen hungry children begging for a meal after their parents were fired from their jobs.  It’s like it  …. never happened.

In 1998, voters were presented with the second minimum wage initiative in ten years, I-688.  The first one, I-518 in 1988, raised the MW almost 100% over 24 months, eliminated the tip credit, extended the MW to agricultural jobs, and established a youth wage for those under 16.  It also extended the MW to those in domestic service (nannies, maids, drivers, gardeners, etc.)

I-688 proposed to increase the minimum wage from $4.90 as of 1/1/98, to $5.70 on 1/1/99, and to $6.50 effective 1/1/00, of increase of about 32.6% (if my math is correct) in equal annual steps over two years.  The second most important piece was indexing the minimum wage to inflation beginning in 2001, so frequent initiatives to raise the MW would not be necessary.  The state could, by rule, establish a lower minimum wage for workers under age 18, the so-called ‘teenagers.’

The 1998 Voter’s Pamphlet contains the following statement against I-688 (remember the Secretary of State cannot edit these statements, so numerous outright lies are contained within the statement. I have kept the bold in the original):

“STATEMENT AGAINST I-688

A 32% increase in the state minimum wage now and unlimited increases in the future will have a direct impact on the family budget of every Washington citizen. When wages are artificially forced up, all other costs go up as well. The price of groceries, gasoline, rent and other goods and services will increase. This will hurt working families and those on fixed incomes, especially senior citizens.

Government mandates for automatic wage hikes and price increases should not be allowed without future voter approval.  Provisions of I-688 could have a devastating impact on communities especially outside Seattle.  The inflation index is based on urban statistics and does not take into consideration the special needs of smaller and rural communities.  What might work in Seattle is not always good in Colfax, Wenatchee or Aberdeen.

Ninety-two percent (92%) of Washington businesses already pay more than the minimum wage. The minimum wages really is starting wage not intended to be a living wage. More than 80% of those still making the minimum wage are teenagers or people living within a family with more than $30,000 per year in income.

Big government should not try to fix every economic worry. The marketplace has proven to be a much better regulator of the economy than the government. To help small businesses continue to offer good opportunities for young people and to keep prices from rising out of control, vote no on I-688.

REBUTTAL TO STATEMENT FOR:

The minimum wage is a starting wage and not intended to support a family. Most people who  earn it our teenagers or part-time workers. Starting wage jobs take people off welfare.

An increased minimum-wage low-cost families because prices of everyday goods and services will rise, not reduce taxes for working families.

I-688 takes away federal wage protections far entry workers and small businesses. Vote no on I-688.

Voters pamphlet statement prepared by:

CAROLINE LOGUE, National Federation of Independent Business; GARY SMITH, Independent Business Association; RUSS GOODMAN, Washington restaurant Association

Advisory committee: JAN TEAGUE, Washington Restaurant Association; STEVE APPEL, Washington Farm Bureau, DAN BRUNELL, Association of Washington Business, CINDY MINDT, Washington State Hotel and Motel Association.”

 

Well, there you have it.  I-688 passed 66% yes, 33% no, a two-thirds yes vote.  Not as high as the earlier vote to repeal the tip credit, but still astronomical for the time period.  One year later, Tim Eyman’s initiative to repeal car tab fee would be passed by voters, too.

Prices raising out of control?  We have enjoyed the lowest inflation since the end of World War II during the period after I-688.  Teenagers working on the minimum wage?  That stinker was debunked years ago.  A recent report for the City of Seattle also updates and further debunks that statistic for the Seattle area.  Government mandated price rises out of control?  Nope.  Prices in Seattle are noticeably lower than many other comparable parts of the country, for everything from fresh produce, groceries, cars, even homes.  Particularly in the fine dining and drinks sectors, Seattle has very low prices, despite the apocalyptic hyperbole we are hearing.

What should be noticeable is the arguments in the 1998 Voter’s Pamphlet are exactly the same as those proposed by opponents of Seattle’s current efforts to increase the minimum wage.  And, they are exactly the same as the arguments recorded in the 1988 Voter’s Pamphlet against I-518.  And, they are exactly the same as the arguments used in the 1930’s to oppose the first laws establishing a federal minimum wage, and against early state efforts to establish minimum wages.  Exact, word-for-word identical arguments over a period of almost one hundred years.  What gives?

In  the next part we will provide some inside baseball about why a small group of neocon restaurant owners is fighting so hard against the current effort.

Your homework is to enjoy a meal at Lost Lake, the 5 Point, Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie, St. Clouds, or Terra Plata, and ask yourself why are these restaurants, all of which pay well above minimum wage, are able to serve such excellent meals at reasonable prices, despite the anti-restaurant environment?  Post your findings in the comments.

 

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