California’s $25 Minimum Wage for Some Health Care Workers Might Be Delayed

A Senate bill would push the starting date into next fiscal year to help reduce this year’s budget deficit.
California’s $25 Minimum Wage for Some Health Care Workers Might Be Delayed
Maria Elena Durazo speaks onstage at the 2019 Women's March in Los Angeles on Jan. 19, 2019. (Araya Diaz/Getty Images for Women's March Los Angeles)
Travis Gillmore

A law approved last year to raise minimum wages for some health care workers to $25 an hour is now in question, with new legislation aimed at delaying its implementation.

Senate Bill 828, introduced by state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, would move back the start date of the increased wages to July 1 from June 1, thus pushing the effects on the state’s finances to next fiscal year.

The measure was introduced on May 20 after the bill’s prior language, authored by state Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, related to corrections officers was gutted and amended to accommodate the new proposal.

Supporters of the newly crafted bill said the proposal will help ensure that staffing levels stay at sustainable levels by incentivizing employment within the health care industry—noting the roughly 500,000 unfilled positions statewide.

“This legislation reaffirms the goals of SB 525 while aligning the implementation date with our state’s fiscal calendar,” the Service Employees International Union—a sponsor of the bills—said in legislative analyses.

A lawmaker supporting the measure said the move will give the Legislature flexibility when discussing the budget bill due by June 15.

“All this simply does is delay the implementation so that it aligns with the coming fiscal year so that we can have those conversations about the budget,” Assemblyman Matt Haney said while presenting the bill to the Assembly. “It makes sense that we do it this way so we can get this right.”

The wage increase could cost the state several billion dollars annually, legislative consultants loosely estimated in analyses last year.

With the state working to resolve a $73 billion deficit, critics call the new bill an accounting gimmick.

“What they’re trying to do is push the costs onto the next fiscal year so that it doesn’t affect this year’s budget,” Assemblywoman Laurie Davies told The Epoch Times.

One of her Republican colleagues agreed and suggested that Gov. Gavin Newsom is using his influence over some lawmakers in the Legislature to address the budget deficit with an accounting tactic.

“The walls are closing in on Gov. Newsom and his Ponzi scheme,” Minority Leader Assemblyman James Gallagher told The Epoch Times. “He made some promises that he can’t keep, and now I think he’s trying to do whatever he can to keep those financial walls from collapsing.”

He said Senate Bill 525—which increased wages in a tiered schedule for certain health care providers—should have been rejected by the Legislature because of a perceived negative effect on the industry and the state’s finances. He said he thinks that now, some lawmakers are scrambling to minimize the effects.

“Last year, we warned the Legislature and said, ‘Don’t pass this; it’s bad policy for rural hospitals and our health care system, and we’re not going to be able to afford it,’” Mr. Gallagher said. “The underlying problem has not been solved, and it just underscores the shifting sand that they’re on with this budget.”

When asked on May 10 why there was no mention of the matter in his budget plan, the governor said that a deal was in the works regarding the health care wage increase.

“We’re going to get it done,” Mr. Newsom said during his press conference. “This budget will not be signed without that deal that we committed to being addressed.”

He declined to give specifics and said that a solution was forthcoming, which some believe was SB 828, though whether more changes are on the way is uncertain.

“One of the things I’ve learned the hard way is talking too publicly about a process that is unfolding in real time,” Mr. Newsom said. “We’ve got a few weeks to land this, and I want to land it in a way that works for everybody and fulfills the commitments we made.”

If the bill is ultimately passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the measure would take effect immediately because of its urgency clause.

Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.