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Philly Dem Pushes $21/Hour Minimum Wage, but Workers May Pay the Price

What’s the maximum amount for a minimum wage that makes economic sense? It depends on your perspective, Delaware Valley business owners say.

The Democrat-controlled Pennsylvania House passed a bill raising the minimum wage from the federally mandated $7.25 to $15 by 2026. Of more concern for restaurant owners is that it would also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to $9 an hour, up from $2.83.

During a Zoom Town Hall Tuesday with self-declared “fair wage” advocates, Philadelphia Democrat Rep. Chris Rabb said $15 is not enough, and he wants the minimum wage to reach $21 an hour.

“Because $15 ain’t enough. Not in Philly,” Rabb said at a campaign event last year.

“Does Rabb want to pay my payroll?” asked Tom Thornton, owner of J.D. McGillicuddy’s in Haverford. Most workers are already making $15 an hour, but “$21 is an overshoot,” said Thornton. “People do need to start out in the $15 to $20 range until they become worthy of $21 an hour. To be perfectly honest, because of all the moving parts in a kitchen or restaurant or any type of business — new employees need training.”

“But the point is [the state legislature] can’t keep gouging people,” said Thornton. “$15 is more than fair; $21 is too high.”

While the $7.25 minimum wage may sound low, less than one percent of the state’s workforce earns the minimum. About 70 percent of Keystone State workers earn $15 or more already, and the average hourly wage in Pennsylvania as of 2022 was $29.88, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

Chris Todd, who owns Christopher’s, a restaurant in Wayne, said, “We have no problem with $15 an hour.” His tipped employees make more than that. “If you’re good, you make a lot more money than people think.”

In 2022, according to the BLS, the average person waiting tables earned about $16 an hour, with the top ten percent taking in more than $26 an hour.

“Pay your people well, and they stay with you,” Todd said. But “$21 an hour is pretty steep.”

During Tuesday’s Zoom call, Rabb bemoaned the House’s $15 legislation, saying it didn’t go far enough.

“The reason we have passed a minimum wage bill to a lowly $15 an hour is because the Senate is controlled by right-wingers who don’t even probably believe we should have any minimum wage at all. So, the strategy behind passing this watered-down minimum wage bill is to start there. But the problem is how the Democrats’ approach was based on logic, and that didn’t really fly in the Senate. So it didn’t matter that we took a bill that was identical to a Republican’s proposal. It was ignored. But we need to start strong, with as strong as possible legislation.”

Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), who’s also running for state auditor general, was also on the call, urging higher mandated wages. Kenyatta said he grew up in a “working poor” family and started working at 13 years old washing dishes in a restaurant. He continued to work in restaurants through college, “having to figure out how to survive on tips.”

He added when it raises the minimum wage, the legislature needs to be careful not to push people off the “benefits cliff” because when their salaries go up, they may no longer qualify for tax or housing support.

Kenyatta and Rabb were joined by Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, who said he and Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) support increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“All work has value,” said Davis. “There is dignity in a hard day’s work whether you’re busing tables or driving a bus.  Pennsylvania workers don’t want handouts. And frankly, the governor and I don’t want to give them a handout.  We want to give workers a hand up and create an opportunity economy that gives everyone the shot to succeed and to live here in Pennsylvania.  We want all Pennsylvania workers to have the opportunity to earn a fair wage.”

Despite Rabb’s comments about his Senate counterparts, Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Armstrong) said during remarks about the budget that the Republicans are willing to work on a deal regarding a higher minimum wage. However, he also added a note of economic caution: higher wages could lead to higher inflation.

“The Independent Fiscal Office pointed out that 60 percent of any minimum wage increase automatically goes into the cost of goods and services. And so, when you talk about inflationary times when you bring the minimum wage up, it also drives into inflationary products.”

Also, nonprofit agencies, like YMCAs, “that rely on part-time work, often times college students to come in and provide services to the community. They don’t have the ability to pass on the increased costs for those services. They either have to raise more in the community, or they have to reduce services,” he said.

Still, Pittman added, “We think we can get somewhere on minimum wage. But I also know we have issues such as permitting reform, clearing red tape, tax reform…”

Higher wages could also lead to fewer workers. In California, where the minimum wage for fast-food workers is headed to $20 an hour in April, The Wall Street Journal reports some chains, like Burger King, will be installing more digital ordering kiosks to soften the economic blow.

“These state leaders and the leadership out there have no concept of what real money is about,” said Thornton. “They have no concept about the little guy, the small businesses that are trying to put people into the workforce, and you just can’t gouge them at $21 an hour.

“Businesses will close left and right. These people who make the rules have no clue. They’ve never run a business themselves.”

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Kenyatta Kicks Off Bid for State Auditor General

Standing in front of the Pennsylvania Capitol, Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for auditor general, a job currently held by Republican Tim DeFoor.

“As a state representative for nearly five years, I have worked to protect workers’ rights, pass common-sense gun safety policies, and root out government corruption and waste,” said Kenyatta. “I’ve held multiple legislative leadership roles: as a member of the powerful state government committee with oversight on state agencies and elections, minority chair of the subcommittee on campaign finance and elections, minority chair of automation and technology in the committee on commerce, and a member of the finance committee.”

Kenyatta, a three-term member of the Pennsylvania House, became the first openly gay person of color to serve in that body when he was elected in 2018.

On Thursday, he discussed his story of growing up in a poor working family. He also outlined his agenda to reform the office and use it as a tool to “keep Pennsylvania families from being screwed.”

Kenyatta claimed to have the support of most of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation as well as state House and Senate leaders, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, and organized labor.

Kenyatta announced a three-point agenda for the office that includes: Rebuilding the department of school audits (which was closed under DeFoor), creating a worker liaison, and using the power of the office to take on wage theft, employee misclassification, union busting, and using the office to measure and support efforts to make communities healthier and safer.

Kenyatta ran for the U.S. Senate last year, losing the Democratic primary to now-Sen. John Fetterman.  In that race, he campaigned on an avowedly progressive platform.

House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) said, “Malcolm is exactly what we need in the next auditor general: Tenacious, honest, and mission-driven. I’ve watched him throughout his life and career center on the needs of working Pennsylvanians. I know he will continue that work in this critical statewide role. I’m proud to endorse him.”

Kenyatta earned a B.A. in public communications and a minor in political science from Temple University and an M.S. in strategic and digital communications from Drexel University. He completed the Harvard Kennedy School’s Executives in State and Local Government program, according to his website.

Congressman Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) said, “I’m proud to endorse Rep. Kenyatta to be our next auditor general. I’ve served in Harrisburg and Washington. I know what it takes to deliver for people, and so does Malcolm. As auditor general, I’m confident he will be a powerful and independent voice for common sense, good government, and fairness. He has worked hard around our commonwealth for years now—he can win, and he will win.”

DeFoor, the current auditor general, took office in January 2021. He was previously the Dauphin County controller and has a background in law enforcement, working as an inspector for the state inspector general and the attorney general. According to his website, he also worked as a fraud investigator and internal auditor for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

DeFoor holds an associate degree in paralegal studies from Harrisburg Area Community College, a B.A., in sociology and history from the University of Pittsburgh, and an M.S. in project management from Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

While Kenyatta has been one of the most outspoken members of the state Democratic Party, DeFoor has largely avoided the limelight, instead focusing on the fiscal duties of his office. He released audits last month showing local school districts, including several in the Philly suburbs, were shifting around money to get higher property taxes without facing the voters.

“The overall results of this audit should raise concerns due to the districts’ common yet questionable practices that are placing an excess burden on taxpayers across Pennsylvania,” DeFoor wrote.

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Dems Circulate ‘Sedition Free Pennsylvania’ Legislation on Eve of January 6 Hearing

If you were at the riot at the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021, two Philadelphia Democrats are coming for you.

State Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta and Christopher Rabb are circulating the “Sedition Free Pennsylvania” bill to amend the state constitution and bar people convicted of sedition from holding office or receiving government contracts. Their proposal would also create a new criminal offense, “seditious conspiracy against the commonwealth” and penalties for it.

Kenyatta, who ran against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman U.S. Senate Democratic primary, acknowledged to Delaware Valley Journal the bill is aimed at keeping people out of government who were involved in the January 6 incident. The most obvious target: state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is the GOP’s nominee for governor. It would also impact Kathy Barnette, who was a Republican contender for the U.S. Senate and lost the nomination to Dr. Mehmet Oz.

The announcement was also timed just ahead of a prime-time hearing by the U.S. House January 6 Committee on Thursday, Kenyatta said.

“Pennsylvania is second in the country in terms of individuals who went to the insurrection” on January 6, Kenyatta said. “Senate candidate Kathy Barnette went to the rally.” And Mastriano “is testifying before the January 6 committee.”

“It was not your typical Capitol tour,” Kenyatta said. “If you were involved with violent sedition against the country you should not lead the state… and you should not get government contracts.”

Kenyatta expects the Congressional hearing Thursday night to “show how serious, how dangerous” the situation was in the Capitol on January 6.

If enacted, the new constitutional amendment and companion sedition law would mark “a line drawn in the sand.”

Kenyatta denied the legislation was political and said he expects members from both parties to sign on.

Some critics of the Democrat-controlled January 6 investigation say it shows a double standard. While the people who actually entered the Capitol building and damaged property should be punished, what about the people who rioted as part of Black Lives Matter or Antifa protests over the past three years? Riots that caused billions of dollars in damage and left several people dead?

Kenyatta defended the BLM protesters, saying they were trying to prevent “extrajudicial executions in the street.” And the right to peacefully protest is “enshrined in the First Amendment.”

“They were not trying to overthrow the government,” Kenyatta said, noting that BLM and Antifa are not the same. “January 6 was not a protest.”

“All of us take an oath [to uphold the constitution],” and the people who participated in the January 6 riot “cannot live up to it. Sedition is the exact opposite,” Kenyatta said.

“We’re seeing more and more of them running for government,” he said. As for those already in office, “folks would have to leave office,” he said. “Not only can they not hold office, there’s a part of it where they cannot get government contracts.”

Kenyatta said that America’s democracy is young and “fragile.”

“This democracy needs to be protected as a small child,” he said. “We’re still a young child.”

Asked whether the person arrested Wednesday while allegedly on his way to murder Justice Brett Kavanaugh over the leaked Roe v. Wade document should be charged with sedition as well, Kenyatta said, “He has to be held accountable. January 6 inspires people” to use violence to solve political problems, he said. “I’m happy this guy was caught and Justice Kavanaugh is safe.”

As for the Supreme Court rulings that he disagrees with, Kenyatta said, “People should run for office and do what I wanted to do, which was expand the court.”

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UPDATE: As Biden’s Polls Sag, Top PA Dems Dodge His Pittsburgh Visit

He may be the top Democrat in Washington, D.C., but he’s having a tough time drawing a crowd in Pittsburgh. Two of the state’s top Democratic candidates will be no-shows when President Joe Biden appears in western Pennsylvania on Friday.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running for the U.S. Senate, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the presumed Democratic nominee for governor, were invited by the Biden team to appear with the president. Both declined the invitation citing scheduling problems, the AP reports.

But after running into the president when he rushed to the scene of a Pittsburgh bridge that collapsed, Fetterman then appeared with Biden on the stage after all.

However, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, who is also a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), will stand with Biden. Lamb is viewed as a more mainstream Democrat from the Biden wing of the party.

Skipping a presidential appearance, particularly in his native state, is quite a snub, political insiders say. And it is an indication the November midterms are being viewed by Democrats as a referendum on an unpopular incumbent.

Biden’s poll numbers have gone from bad to worse over recent weeks, with his approval plunging to 39 percent. That is more than 10 points lower than President Barack Obama’s in 2010, when Republicans picked up a whopping 63 seats — and a majority — in the House of Representatives.

“It’s no wonder why even the most extreme members of the Democrat Party are staying far, far away from Joe Biden – with approval numbers in the tank, Biden’s political toxicity is inescapable. Democrats can cite ‘scheduling conflicts’ all they want, but voters know the truth: Joe Biden is already destroying his party’s hopes for November,” said RNC spokesperson Allie Carroll.

While some Democrats appear to be dodging Biden, at least one Delaware Valley Senate candidate said he would definitely stand with the president. “Absolutely,” said state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia). “He is my friend,” said Kenyatta. “I would welcome him here any time in the 181st District.”

“Last week I was on a zoom with the President marking his 1 year anniversary in office alongside Governor Rendell, and a small group of early supporters of his campaign,” he said.

Kenyatta noted he was an early Biden supporter and went across the country to rural Iowa and other areas to campaign for him.

“I think the more the president talks about restoring the basic bargain with America the better,” said Kenyatta, saying that is what Biden’s Build Back Better plan is about. It is making sure people have a good education, good jobs, and a retirement where they can “live with dignity,” Kenyatta said.

Montgomery County Commission Chairwoman Val Arkoosh, a Democrat who is also running for the Senate, did not respond to a request for comment.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell had tough words for Democrats who are avoiding Biden.

“They’re stupid because things can turn around in politics pretty dramatically,” Rendell told The Associated Press. “You can’t hide. People end up thinking less of you for not showing up.”

 

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