Ron Unz is back.
The software engineer who authored a 1998 ballot initiative to end bilingual education, and challenged Gov. Pete Wilson in the 1994 Republican primary, is now out to make the conservative case for increasing the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure last year that will make California’s minimum wage the highest of any state at the nation -- $10 per hour by 2016.
But that, Unz says, is not enough. He has a new ballot measure that would raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour, a move Unz says could save the state tens of millions of dollars in welfare payments.
“The reason the current system operates is that there are massive government subsidies going to these low-wage employees,” he said. “Government essentially subsidizes low-wage businesses. They’re getting money from the taxpayer instead of standing on their own two feet.”
Though advocacy of minimum-wage hikes has typically been the providence of the Democratic Party, Unz said there’s a compelling reason for Republicans such as himself to embrace a such an increase.
“Eliminating unfair government subsidies is a very free-market position to take,” he said.
Unz said the chances are “very good” that his initiative will go forward this year, though some Democrats are wary of another hike in the minimum wage before the latest increase is fully implemented. Others say they’d like future minimum-wage increases to be automatic as the cost of living rises. They also note that the 2016 presidential ballot, for which voter turnout is typically higher and more Democratic, might give a wage-hike initiative better odds of passing.
But with President Obama set to make a hike in the federal minimum wage an issue in his State of the Union speech, Unz says the time is right for a statewide push.
“The national climate over the last couple of months has really been transformed on this issue,” he said. “I think the odds of moving forward are very good.”
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