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Republicans seek to halt Virginia’s minimum wage increase

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Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) put forward legislation to halt Virginia's staggered minimum wage increases. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

Republicans in Virginia’s House of Delegates have advanced legislation seeking to freeze a staggered minimum wage increase approved by Democrats nearly two years ago. Their efforts are likely to meet a wall of resistance in the state Senate, where Democrats have already rejected efforts to undo one of their signature accomplishments while in the majority.

Legislation carried by Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) would halt Virginia’s minimum wage at its current level of $11 an hour. In floor debate on Monday, Freitas reiterated points his party made in resisting the gradual increase passed by Democrats in 2020. He argued that while increasing the wage seemed like a straightforward moral argument, it actually represented an artificial floor that injected government into the labor market, hurting workers’ ability to take jobs they wanted.

“Why not $25, why not $50, why not $100?” Freitas asked. “Why don’t we just mandate as a body that everyone in the commonwealth of Virginia be wealthy?”

Current state law calls for the wage to rise to $12 an hour next year. And if the legislature signs off during its 2024 session,the wage could continue to rise to $15 by Jan. 1, 2026 and be pegged to inflation beyond that.

Democrats argued the pandemic and rising inflation made preserving the increase all the more urgent. In a floor speech, freshman Del. Angela Graves (D-Norfolk) made a moral pitch for hiking the wage.

“A vote against increasing the minimum wage is a vote against the most vulnerable population of this commonwealth,” Graves said.

A 2021 study by the Congressional Budget Office found that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would cut employment by about 1% across the U.S, costing 1.4 million jobs. It also found the hike would bring nearly 1 million people out of poverty, increase the salaries of 27 million people and have a net positive impact on federal revenues.

The GOP-controlled House of Delegates is set to take a final vote on Freitas’ legislation on Tuesday. It faces long odds in the state Senate, where committees led by Democrats swiftly killed similar Republican bills in party-line votes. A spokesperson for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has said he would prioritize cost of living concerns during his tenure, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on his stance on the legislation.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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