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Editorial: L.A. City Council should take time to get minimum wage hike right

Mayor Eric Garcetti is seen last month announcing his plan to raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles to more than $13 an hour.
(Los Angeles Times)

Several Los Angeles City Council members have requested further study of how Mayor Eric Garcetti’s $13.25-an-hour minimum wage proposal — and the $15.25 alternative that is also being considered — would affect the local economy, particularly small businesses and nonprofits. The motion, introduced by Councilmen Mitch O’Farrell and Bob Blumenfield, also asks whether exemptions, delays or mitigation measures for certain hard-hit industries should be considered.

After the council’s rush last month to pass a special $15.37 minimum wage for hotel workers, without allowing themselves time to digest city-commissioned studies on whether it was even a good idea, it’s nice to see some members asking for the kind of in-depth analysis that should accompany such a major public policy decision. Of course, this could dash Garcetti’s hopes of getting his proposal passed by January. But a short delay would be acceptable if it yields clear, usable information.

The call for more study shouldn’t be seen as a stall tactic or an attempt to water down this important anti-poverty measure. While this page supports Garcetti’s proposal to raise the minimum wage gradually to $13.25 in 2017, we have also noted that it affects more workers and raises wages higher than minimum wage increases that have previously been studied. So the city is already headed into uncharted territory, and now some City Council members have proposed an additional increase to reach $15.25 in 2019, which would be among the highest minimum wages in the nation.

It makes sense to analyze the potential impacts and to think about possible ways to lessen negative consequences. Should L.A. follow the lead of Seattle and delay the minimum wage increase for small businesses, which often have smaller profit margins? Or should it follow San Francisco, where voters will consider an across-the-board wage hike in November? Should the city provide a wage credit for businesses that pay for employee health insurance, or would that be too difficult to enforce? Should the city lobby for higher federal and state reimbursement rates for nonprofits that provide social services to help them cover higher employee costs? What impact would the wage hikes have on the city’s general fund, which pays for police, fire and other services?

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L.A.'s leaders are generally cautious and deliberative when considering how to spend city money — they’ve been studying how to reduce the burdensome business tax without hurting the general fund for at least a decade. But they don’t always give the same care and analysis to proposals that require the private sector to spend money. The proposal to enact L.A.'s first citywide minimum wage could be one of the most significant pieces of legislation that today’s council members will vote on during their tenures. Surely they can take the time to get it right.

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