Bill for local minimum wages introduced in state legislature
A bill that would allow counties in Hawaiʻi to set local minimum wages by ordinance, as long as those wages are higher than the state minimum wage, has been introduced at the state legislature.
The bill, which is HB111 in the State House of Representatives and SB230 in the State Senate, was authored by Council member Gabe Johnson of Lānaʻi, and supported by the Maui County Council last term for inclusion in the Maui County Council Legislative Package.
“Across the nation, many counties have the authority to set minimum wages and have exercised that power,” said Council member Johnson in a news release. “These counties are on the frontlines of establishing minimum wages that meet the basic needs of full-time workers.”
HB111 has been referred to the House Labor & Government Operations and Finance committees, chaired by representatives Scot Z. Matayoshi and Kyle T. Yamashita, respectively.
SB230 has a joint referral to the Senate Labor and Technology and Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs committees, respectively chaired by senators Sharon Y. Moriwaki and Glenn Wakai. SB230 is also referred to the Ways and Means Committee chaired by Senator Donovan M. Dela Cruz.
Johnson said anyone in support of legislation to authorize counties to set local minimum wages can call and email these committee chairs to voice their support and request that HB111 and SB230 receive a hearing in committee.
Johnson cited a Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism report on the state self-sufficiency income standard—a legally mandated report which calculates living costs based on expenses such as housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, clothing and household items, and taxes, saying the self-sufficiency wage for a single adult can vary as much as 27% between counties in the state.
“If the amount it takes to survive differs so drastically between counties, and minimum wage policy is intended to protect the wellbeing of workers and prevent unduly low pay, then it only makes sense that counties should be able to set local minimum wages to match the working conditions and cost of living in their communities,” said Johnson.
“This is a home rule issue, because it allows counties to determine what is best for their local economic conditions and to pivot quickly when these conditions shift,” he added. “Further, this gives our local small businesses and low-wage workers more of a voice because it would allow them to participate in this important conversation here in Maui County, rather than having to travel to the State Capitol in Honolulu.”
The minimum wage in Hawaiʻi is currently $12 an hour, and will increase to $14 an hour beginning Jan. 1, 2024. The self-sufficiency hourly wage in Maui County for a single adult was $17.84 an hour in 2020, according to the most recent DBEDT Self-Sufficiency Income Standard report published in 2021.
Since that report, Johnson said, costs have only continued to rise in the County, meaning that workers’ wages are falling behind the cost of living. A recent Aloha United Way report found that 52% of Maui County households live below the ALICE threshold, meaning they cannot meet the basic cost of living, and are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed (ALICE) or living in poverty.
The Aloha United Way report also found that the percentage of Maui County households living below the federal poverty line rose from 6% in 2018 to 16% in 2022.
When the state legislature most recently increased the minimum wage, it wrote in the bill which became Act 114:
“The legislature further finds that increases to the cost of living in the state, combined with stagnant wages, have contributed to the increase in the number of ALICE households. The legislature also finds that while the cost of living continues to increase, minimum wage has not increased to an appropriate amount necessary to offset the higher increase in cost of living. Increasing the minimum wage to support the working class is necessary to ensure that living in Hawaiʻi is affordable.”
“I strongly agree that the minimum wage is a tool to ensure our working people can survive and meet their basic needs, and that good minimum wage policy can help to make Hawaiʻi affordable,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, the truth is that the legislature has only passed legislation to increase the minimum wage four times in the last 30 years. And, each raise was not a sufficient increase to an actually livable minimum wage.
“This slow walk does not serve our workers, economy, and community,” said Johnson. “I support HB111 and SB230, and I hope the community will join me in advocating for this bill at the state legislature.
“I look forward to the day when I can have a robust discussion with my colleagues on the Council and the local community about the wages our workers deserve.”