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Originally published December 29, 2010 at 1:22 PM | Page modified December 29, 2010 at 7:25 PM

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Judge rejects request to stop state's minimum-wage increase

A Kittitas County judge on Wednesday rejected a request to halt a 12-cent increase to the state's minimum wage that takes effect this weekend.

Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

A Kittitas County judge Wednesday rejected a request to halt a 12-cent increase to the state's minimum wage that takes effect this weekend.

Superior Court Judge Scott Sparks ruled against the summary judgment request made by a coalition of business groups that sued the state last month over the decision to raise the minimum wage to $8.67 an hour.

The groups opposed to the increase argue that the minimum wage can't be increased in 2011 because this year's Consumer Price Index did not reflect a net increase in the cost of living since 2008. A voter initiative ties the state's minimum wage to the index.

The coalition opposed to the increase includes the Washington Farm Bureau, the Washington Restaurant Association and the Washington Retail Association.

John Stuhlmiller, a spokesman for the farm bureau, said the groups were determining their next step. "Obviously, it's not the outcome we wanted," he said of the ruling.

Suchi Sharma, an attorney with the state's Department of Labor and Industries who attended Wednesday's hearing in Ellensburg, said the group's lawsuit remained active, but that under the judge's ruling, the minimum wage will increase on Saturday as scheduled.

A Seattle-based lawyer for Justice for Immigrant Workers said the increase is "a big deal for a lot of people."

"That 12-cent raise goes further than you think," Rebecca Smith said. "It's going to make a difference of a few dollars a week — but a few dollars a week buys an extra loaf of bread, another gallon of milk or a gallon of gas."

The agency's decision in October to raise the rate came after conflicting legal opinions from the state attorney general and the authors of the 1998 voter initiative that tied the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index.

The state wage in 2010 didn't increase, the first time that's happened since the initiative passed, because inflation, as measured by the price index, fell last year. It's now growing again, but at a slower rate.

Recent federal numbers showed an overall increase in the index, though it's still lower than the last time the state minimum wage increased in January 2009.

The state agency had initially asked Attorney General Rob McKenna if the state could increase the minimum wage if the price index increases to less than the level the current wage is based upon. McKenna said no, but the Washington state Labor Council, the group behind Initiative 688, opposed McKenna's interpretation.

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While the state's current rate of $8.55 an hour is already the highest state minimum wage in the nation, a few cities, like San Francisco and Santa Fe, N.M., have their own laws and have higher rates. San Francisco's current rate of $9.79 will increase to $9.92 next year. The federal minimum wage is $7.25. Washington is among seven states where the minimum wage will increase Saturday.

Oregon, which also has an initiative-based minimum-wage law, announced last month that its minimum wage was going up by 10 cents to $8.50 an hour in 2011.

Colorado's minimum wage dropped slightly this year, from $7.28 to the federal level of $7.25, because of the drop in inflation, but it will increase to $7.36 Saturday.

Other states with adjustable minimum wages are Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio and Vermont.

Most states that tie the wage to inflation, including Washington, make no provision for lowering the amount, so the minimum wage stays flat if the price index falls.

Information from Associated Press reporter Kristen Wyatt in Denver is included in this report.

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