Q&A: Will the $15 minimum wage pass California’s Legislature? And other key questions...

Workers march through the Financial District in downtown Los Angeles in November in favor of a minimum wage of $15 per hour.

Workers march through the Financial District in downtown Los Angeles in November in favor of a minimum wage of $15 per hour.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown, lawmakers and leaders of two major labor unions held a news conference Monday in Sacramento to unveil details of an agreement that would raise California’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Here’s what we know – and don’t know – about the proposal and the politics behind it.

Why a minimum wage increase now?

The simple answer is that the politics were right. Two different labor unions vowed to put the issue on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot, and one of those initiatives officially qualified for the ballot last week. The governor and lawmakers have been quietly working the last few weeks on a proposal that the unions would find good enough to abandon their ballot plans. Neither of those initiatives would have allowed for temporary pauses in the wage increase, one of Brown’s long-standing objections.

It’s important to note that the minimum wage debate is also a key element of the Democratic presidential race as the campaigns arrive in California ahead of the June 7 primary. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton support raising the federal minimum wage, though progressive groups have criticized Clinton for not embracing the $15-an-hour level but stopping at support for a $12-an-hour nationwide wage.

What happens next in Sacramento?

Now that the minimum wage proposal has been formally introduced, both houses of the Legislature could act quickly to approve it and send it to Brown for his signature. An Assembly committee hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, and final legislative action in both houses could come on Thursday.

Follow the action on our Essential Politics news feed >>

What are its chances of passage?

Probably pretty good. Democrats control both the state Senate and state Assembly by substantial margins and the party has long identified the minimum wage as a key issue. State lawmakers approved the last wage increase in 2013.

That being said, a key question is how many business-aligned Democrats raise objections. A sizable portion of the Assembly’s 51 Democrats consider themselves part of what they call the “mod caucus,” a group that has proved more fiscally cautious than their more liberal colleagues. The minimum wage legislation will likely require a simple majority – 41 votes in the 80-seat Assembly – to pass. If a substantial number of the “mods” balk, the plan could be in trouble.

The odds are generally seen to be stronger in the 40-member state Senate, where the bill would likely need 21 votes in favor. Democrats hold 26 seats, and liberal legislators dominate more in the Senate than in the Assembly.

When would the minimum wage go up?

California’s statewide minimum wage rose to $10 on Jan. 1 and the new agreement would trigger further increases over the next six years. Here’s the schedule outlined in a document obtained by the Los Angeles Times:

For companies with fewer than 25 workers, the increases would start in 2018 and end at $15 an hour in 2023.

Who benefits from the deal?

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said that about 5.6 million workers will benefit from the wage hike. In 2022, the annual income of a person working a full-time, minimum wage job at $15 an hour would rise to $31,200. In 2016, the annual income of a person earning $10 an hour in a full-time job is $20,800.

In addition, labor unions successfully won as many as three additional paid sick days for their members who work as in-home care providers.

What about concerns over the impact to the economy?

Those are exactly why Brown has resisted most plans for a minimum wage increase introduced in the Legislature. The tentative agreement allows a governor to hit the pause button on all of the scheduled increases except the one in 2017, but would require that governor to show either a decline in statewide job growth or new estimates of state budget deficits.

The proposal also makes a concession to small businesses, allowing those with fewer than 26 workers an additional year to raise wages.

Does action in Sacramento guarantee that there won’t be a minimum wage hike on the November statewide ballot?

No. Labor unions have spent millions of dollars gathering signatures, and they want to see the final details of the minimum wage agreement before standing down. The $15 an hour initiative that qualified last week doesn’t have to be formally withdrawn from the ballot until late June.

But the deal is widely seen as being far-reaching enough to gain the support of the unions, who then wouldn’t have to spend tens of millions of dollars on minimum wage political campaigns this fall. Democrats will no doubt applaud that, as it means those unions may then use those campaign dollars for other causes – including a closely watched effort to extend temporary income taxes on the most wealthy.

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Updates from Sacramento


3:38 p.m.: Updated to reflect developments from Monday's press conference.

3:45 p.m.: Updated to reflect a correction issued by the governor's office regarding the number of employees small businesses would need to have to get the additional year to raise wages. Brown initially said it was fewer than 25 workers; his office corrected that to fewer than 26.

4:23 p.m.:Updated to reflect a scheduled Assembly hearing on the plan.

This article was originally published at 10:56 a.m.