End of Otherwise Congenial Session Complicated by Minimum Wage Battle

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The Second Session of the 149th General Assembly started on a considerably more positive note than the first.  At the outset, the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council (the body charged with developing the revenue estimates that the administration and legislature use to craft the budget), projected a surplus of some $150 million.  At the outset of the first session, the General Assembly and freshman Carney Administration were facing a structural shortfall of some $350 million, which ultimately grew to roughly $400 million. 
 
Ultimately, due in part to windfalls resulting from recent federal tax cuts and an improving economy, the legislature had a $400 million structural surplus that allowed them to restore the 20 percent across the board cuts made to the Grant-in-Aid budget last year, provide state workers with a pay increase and fund a considerable amount of capital construction in FY 2019. 
 
However, despite the rosy financial picture, last minute disputes between Republicans and Democrats threatened to once again delay the end of session.  The sticking point was Senate Bill 170, legislation which increases the Delaware Minimum Wage by $2.00 per hour, in 50 cent increments over the next four years, starting July 1 of this year. 
 
Earlier minimum wage legislation, Senate Bill 10, was defeated in the Senate.  Joe Fitzgerald took the Senate floor to testify against the bill on behalf of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Hotel Lodging Association. 
 
Shortly after the defeat of Senate Bill 10, Senator Bob Marshall (D-Wilmington) introduced Senate Bill 170.  The legislation remained in the Senate Labor Committee, lacking one signature for release, until late May.  The bill was brought before the Senate on June 30, where it passed by a vote of 11 “yes” and 10 “no”.   The legislation as originally written would have increased the minimum wage by $2.00 per hour, in increments of 50 cents per year, over the next four years.   Senate Amendment 2 to SB 170 reduced that to  $1.00 in two increments of 50 cents, the first occurring on October 1, 2018 and the second on October 1, 2019
 
Ultimately House leadership, elected to move to suspend rules and bring the bill before the House of Representatives at roughly 4:00 a.m. on July 1.  The House Republicans balked at this proposal and threatened to walk out, leaving the Capital Budget, which requires a three-fifths vote and the Grant-in-Aid budget (also requiring a supermajority) unpassed.
 
For a few hours after the House passage of SB 170, it seemed that once again, the General Assembly would have to extend session into July 3 in an “extraordinary special session” due to an impasse (as it did last year).  A compromise was reached to approve both a “training wage” and a “youth wage” via House Bill 483, sponsored by Representative Mike Ramone, House Minority Leader Danny Short, House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst. 
 
Under HB 483, a training wage can be paid to an employee who is 18 and older during the “first 90 consecutive calendar days after the employee is initially employed”.  The training wage can be up to 50 cents less than the legal minimum wage.  The youth wage will allow employers to pay individuals less than 18 years of age 50 cents less than the minimum wage.
 
Both bills have been signed by Governor Carney.
 
Copyright 2016 New Castle County Chamber of Commerce