November 15-22, 2006

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Sam Farr Keeps Hope Alive

In the wake of Measure G's defeat last week by 61 percent of local voters, economic relief will be slow in coming to the our money-demanding city's lowest paid workers. The measure's opponents argued that a $9.25 local minimum wage in Santa Cruz, when set against the state-mandated minimum wage effective in surrounding cities (which will increase to only $7.50 on New Year's Day and $8 one year later) would drive businesses and jobs out of the city. This argument seemed to sway voters, effectively sending the measure's proponents back to the drawing board.

Nuz contacted 17th District Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), who will be part of the new Democratic majority in Congress pushing for an increase in the $5.15 federal minimum wage, to get his take on potential solutions.

Farr figures a federal increase would help level the playing field for California industries, who now pay significantly more for low-wage workers than businesses in other states. Of course, he points out, that won't do anything for low-wage workers here in California, where the minimum wage would still be higher than the anticipated $7 federal minimum.

Farr suggests that the most feasible solution is for California workers to continue pushing for minimum wage increases at the state level. That approach, he argues, will nullify the 'island economy' argument, which relies on fears that businesses will take flight from a high-cost Santa Cruz labor market and move their shops to Capitola or even San Jose.

"All your competitors state-wide would be in the same boat," says Farr. (Of course, Nuz can easily imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger resurrecting his old campaign rhetoric about California businesses fleeing to Nevada and Arizona.)

Farr cites California's role as a trendsetter for other states and predicts that lawmakers around the nation will watch legislation passed here carefully. This, in turn, will likely help low-wage workers throughout the country.

"What you observe in Washington is that all progressive reform starts at the local and eventually state level, and when you get a critical mass of states that are in agreement, then you get a change in national policy," says Farr. "So I applaud the effort at making it a debatable issue."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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