Renton $19 Minimum Wage Hike Ballot Measure Leading In Early Results

February 15, 2024


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A ballot measure to raise Renton’s minimum wage to about $19 an hour was leading Tuesday night based on early results from the special election.

Initiative Measure 23-02 had secured 57.5% of the vote, with about 10,300 ballots counted. Remaining ballots will be counted over the next few days.

About 20% of Renton’s 58,700 registered voters — or 11,500 people — had returned ballots as of Tuesday night, according to the King County Elections office.

Organizers behind the campaign said they were celebrating the early results, and believe that later ballots will swing in their direction.

“To see the wage disparities in our city…we know the impact on workers is going to be positive,” said Guillermo Zazueta, chair of the Raise the Wage Renton campaign. “We’ve seen thousands of working families ready to get this wage increase.”

Renton businesses currently must pay at least the state’s minimum wage of $16.28 an hour. The citizen-initiated measure models Renton’s new wage floor on a similar initiative in Tukwila which passed in 2022 with 82% of the vote.

If approved, the measure would require large employers to pay workers $20.29 an hour and midsize employers to pay $18.29 an hour starting July 1, bringing the city’s minimum wage in line with those in Seattle, SeaTac and Tukwila. Businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from the minimum wage hike.

Renton would be the fourth city in Washington to boost its minimum wage above the state’s rate if the measure passes.

Raise the Wage Renton campaign organizers said the hike would help individuals and families keep up with the high cost of goods and housing, and argued the increased income would also allow residents to spend more money at local businesses.

Critics have said raising the minimum wage would force businesses to cut jobs and benefits, while putting small businesses with lower-wage positions at a hiring disadvantage. They’ve also argued the wage increase would lead to higher prices at restaurants and stores.

Unlike in Tukwila, which saw no organized campaign against the initiative, opposition to the minimum wage hike proposal in Renton has been fierce, similar to fights in Seattle and SeaTac, where business groups put up strong resistance efforts.

The No on 23-02 campaign spent more than $150,000 fighting the Renton initiative. The biggest contributors to the opposition campaign include political action committees representing the Washington Hospitality Association, the Seattle Hotel Association and Seattle Restaurant Alliance, and the Washington Food Industry Association.

Under the proposed measure, midsize companies with 15 to 500 workers would have a multiyear phase-in period, meeting the large employers rate in July 2026. Wage increases would also be adjusted for inflation annually.

Research has generally found raising the minimum wage does not result in widespread job losses, (in some cases, it creates new jobs) but some studies and analyses have found hikes may lead to some job cutsreduced benefits or fewer hours for workers. Higher minimum wages can lift some out of poverty and alleviate debt for some households, researchers have found, and price increases for consumer goods are typically small or negligible.

About a third of the jobs in Renton, or more than 21,500 jobs, paid less than $19.23 an hour as of 2019, according to a city impact analysis released last year.

A person making the state’s minimum wage would need to work 103 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in King County, according to 2023 estimates from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

A special election was also held Tuesday in Snohomish County, where several school and transportation funding-related measures were up for a vote. They included renewing a sales and use tax that funds street projects in Marysville, renewal of a school district levy to support the Arlington School District, and a construction bond to build new schools in the Edmonds School District.

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