Virginia lawmakers agree to four-month delay for minimum wage hike

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, works with assistant clerk, Tara Perkinson, right, as they prepare for the reconvene session at the Science Museum of Virginia Wednesday April 22, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The Senate is meeting in a remote location due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. (AP Photo/POOL/Steve Helber)

The General Assembly narrowly agreed to a four-month delay for the state’s first minimum wage increase in more than a decade.

Under legislation passed last month by newly elected Democratic majorities, the minimum wage would have increased from $7.25 to $9.50 on Jan. 1. Gov. Ralph Northam, citing economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, proposed pushing that back to May 1, 2021.

Democrats were somewhat divided over the proposal. Some called it prudent. Some said they opposed the delay but worried Northam would veto the bill altogether if they didn’t accept it. And a few said they opposed it and voted against it.

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, fell into the latter camp, arguing the low wage workers the bill would help are among the front-line service workers keeping the public healthy.

“I think it should go into effect now,” she said.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, cautioned that there was no guarantee Northam would still sign the bill if they rejected his amendment.

“They say, ‘Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it,’” he said. “I would ask the body, ‘Be careful what you ask for, you might not get it.’”

Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, said a four-month delay wasn’t nearly long enough to give small businesses time to recover from the pandemic. “This is just untimely,” he said.

Republicans in the House made similar arguments.

“It was a bad idea then and a worse idea now,” said Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt. “Delaying it four months is paltry and frankly insulting to the business community.”

The measure passed the Senate on a 21-20 vote, with Lt. Justin Fairfax casting the tie-breaking vote to accept the amendment.

In the House, it passed 49-45.

Mercury reporter Kate Masters contributed to this report.