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Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed raising the state minimum wage as part of his 2017-18 budget proposal, and some employers in York County are taking notice.

The Democratic governor has advocated for an increase to the state's minimum wage — which sits at the federally mandated $7.25 per hour — since taking office.

The state budget office projects the proposed increase to $12 per hour, which would be the highest in the nation, would raise about $95 million annually in additional tax revenue as part of an effort to close a projected deficit near $3 billion by next year.

According to the state Department of Labor and Industry's most recent minimum wage advisory report, approximately 145,000 residents make minimum wage or less — with those making less likely supplanted by tips. The report does not break down numbers by county.

A full-time minimum wage employee makes $15,080 per year, which is slightly less than the federal poverty threshold ($15,391) for a two-person household, according to the report.

If the Legislature passed a bill supporting Wolf's $12 proposal, a full-time minimum wage worker would make $24,960 per year, which is slightly above the federal poverty threshold ($24,600) for a four-person household, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

That figure represents an increase over the average entry-level wage of employees in York County ($20,530) and, specifically, employees working in 13 of 22 occupational groups, according to 2015 state labor department statistics.

JJ Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf's office, said the governor believes an increase to the state's minimum wage is long overdue to ensure hard-working citizens make livable wages.

The state last raised its minimum wage voluntarily to $7.15 in July 2007, and it was raised again to meet the federal rate in 2009.

Twenty-nine states — including neighboring Maryland ($8.65 per hour), New Jersey ($8.38 per hour), Delaware ($8.25 per hour), West Virginia ($8.75 per hour), Ohio ($8.10 per hour) and New York ($9.70 per hour) — have higher state minimum wages than Pennsylvania.

Kevin Schreiber, a former Democratic state representative, has previously spoken out in favor of raising the state minimum wage

Now the president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, Schreiber wrote in a statement Tuesday that the alliance has not taken a formal position, though he advised it would be prudent to grant the business community time to adjust to any implemented increase.

"The greatest gift government can grant our economy is predictability," Schreiber wrote. "Hence, this is the type of legislation that should be done with ample opportunity for input, evaluation and notice to the business community and labor market.”

Abbott said Wolf is willing to work with the Legislature on an appropriate timeline for implementation or even a different level. Wolf previously proposed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

"The governor believes $12 is fair, but we'd prefer some action to none," Abbott said.

The only bill addressing minimum wage levels proposed in this year's session comes from Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia County, who proposes incremental increases to $15 per hour by 2021, after which it would be automatically adjusted for inflation each year.

Schreiber noted that many York County employers already have started increasing wages in order to compete for quality employees.

WellSpan, the largest employer in the county, sets its internal minimum at $11 per hour, according to Bob Batory, senior vice president of human resources.

Batory said the organization typically looks at its pay rates near the beginning of its fiscal year, July 1, to make sure it remains competitive for quality employees.

Though its minimum wage is currently $11 per hour, Batory estimated that less than 1 percent of its 15,300 employees earns less than $12 per hour.

As a citizen, Batory said, he respects lawmakers' efforts on the issue, but he's a firm believer in allowing a competitive labor market to determine wage rates.

Batory said he's most concerned with the impact a higher minimum wage will have on small business owners.

"We've seen in the past where legislative mandates go too far," he said. "It could very well result in a cut of jobs or hours for employees."

York County government, another of the county's largest employers, has 206 employees making less than $12 per hour, according to county spokesman Mark Walters.

Walters wrote in an email that increasing those employees' pay to exactly $12 per hour would cost the county about $315,000, though he noted that figure doesn't include expected adjustments that would need to be made for those with more years of experience making just above $12 per hour.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.

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