Minimum wage becomes gubernatorial issue

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Texas Sen.Wendy Davis speaks to supporters at a rally celebrating the one year anniversary of her filibuster of SB 5. 
Texas Sen.Wendy Davis speaks to supporters at a rally celebrating the one year anniversary of her filibuster of SB 5. 

State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, made headlines last week after she expressed her support for a minimum wage hike. Specifically, she proposed raising the wage to $10, a more than 33 percent hike from the current federal minimum of $7.25. Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, quickly fired back by stating his steadfast opposition to such a proposal, claiming it would especially cost jobs for entry-level, training positions.

The economics of a minimum wage hike are still up for debate. At its core, the controversy is predicated on the tradeoff between the elimination of jobs and the overall increase in utility among those still employed. Most studies, such as a high-profile one by the Congressional Budget Office, show that a minimum wage hike to $10 would actually result in a net gain to the economy. Other studies, such as one examining a proposal to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to $15, show a net negative.

But even if Davis beats the enormous odds and is elected governor, such a proposal would still be quite quixotic. The State Legislature will certainly still be heavily controlled by Republicans next year, and their representatives will undoubtedly still be hostile to such a bill. A far more realistic idea would be to change state law to allow for counties and municipalities, such as Austin, to raise their minimum wages to a higher level.

State law currently requires the entire state to stick to the federal minimum. Austin in the past has tinkered with the idea of lobbying the State Legislature to change that onerous regulation, but to no avail. As it is, the city can only set minimums for its employees and contractors.

Legislators, namely Republicans, should be far more amenable to the idea of local control.  That big government should not be bullying local — more direct — representatives of the people into submission.

And students should be wildly supportive of such a measure. While many young people indubitably would be not be hired with a higher base wage, the research shows that — assuming a $10 wage would now be used — many more would be benefited with higher salaries.

Horwitz is an associate editor.