Minimum wage law will cost the state

A minimum wage/overtime pay measure that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislative leaders admit is flawed has become law in West Virginia. Employers -and that includes taxpayers, through local government officials – have no choice but to begin planning for compliance.

Tomblin signed House Bill 4283 into law Tuesday, despite warnings it will have ramifications far beyond those intended by many lawmakers.

Both the House of Delegates and state Senate approved HB 4283 by healthy margins. No doubt most lawmakers believed what they were told about the measure – that it was aimed at increasing the minimum wage for those already covered by the state’s law on that subject. The idea was to boost the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $8.75 in two years.

But after HB 4283 was sent to the governor, it was learned the bill does much more than that. It extends minimum wage coverage to far more workers, and it changes overtime pay rules.

That alone will affect many West Virginians adversely. For example, because of the unique circumstances, firefighters and police officers often work far more than 40 hours a week. In Wheeling, firefighters put in 56-hour weeks, then have more than the usual time off as compensation. Implementation of HB 4283 will mean the city will have to give them overtime pay for 16 of those 56 hours.

If HB 4283 remains intact, it will cost Wheeling – again, taxpayers – about $300,000 a year, Mayor Andy McKenzie estimates.

The overtime glitch was just one of several reasons Tomblin was urged to veto HB 4283, then have legislators try again to craft a bill increasing the state minimum wage for those paid under it now. That could have been done in the special session of the Legislature the governor plans to call in May.

But Tomblin’s signature made HB 4283 the law of the land. The governor insists legislators will amend it in May.

But HB 4283 goes into effect June 6. That means employers will have to begin planning for it now. Merely planning for compliance will be costly.

They can either do that, possibly by laying off some employees or altering public safety work weeks, or trust legislators to repair the law in May.

Why would any employer do that? Legislators either couldn’t – or never really intended to – get it right the first time. Why should they be trusted now?