Senate Democrats vote to increase minimum wage to $15, but only in Northern Virginia

Advocates calling for the General Assembly to increase the minimum wage rally outside the Capitol. (NBC12)

Senate Democrats abandoned an across-the-board approach to raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour on Tuesday, instead adopting a regional approach that will halt statewide increases at $11.50 in 2024.

From there, it gets complicated: The state would be carved up into regions based on median family incomes. Northern Virginia, the region with the highest median family income, would continue to see wages go up by $1 a year until it hits $15.

All the other regions would see their wages increased a smaller amount based on their own average incomes. For instance, if Northern Virginia’s median income was $100,000 and another region’s was $40,000, that other region would increase 40 cents to Northern Virginia’s $1.

Once Northern Virginia hits $15, the various minimum wage rates across the state would be increased annually to matched inflation.

“I think it, quite frankly, reflects a pretty good compromise,” said Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax. “It’s the best you can do on regionalization. Everyone’s been asking for regionalization. You’re getting it in this bill.”

The proposal is very different from legislation that cleared the House of Delegates earlier in the day, which proposes an across-the-board increase to $15 by 2025, at which point annual increases would be pegged to inflation.

Both the Senate and House’s version of the bill passed on party-line votes. Lawmakers will spend the next several weeks reconciling their two proposals.

In the Senate, Republicans said they appreciated the adjustments, but said even raising the wage to $11.50 was too much for businesses in their respective localities to bear.

“I’m grateful that we got something somewhat better, but I am worried this is going to hurt greatly,” said Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg.