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Seattle mayor finds impasse over $15 hourly wage proposal

Ed Murray addresses the crowd after being sworn in as Mayor of Seattle at City Hall in Seattle, Washington January 6, 2014. REUTERS/David Ry
Ed Murray addresses the crowd after being sworn in as Mayor of Seattle at City Hall in Seattle, Washington January 6, 2014. REUTERS/David Ry

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A coalition of business, labor, and nonprofit interests assembled by the mayor of Seattle has failed to agree on a proposal that, if adopted by lawmakers, would raise the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour, more than double the U.S. national rate.

The issue has been hotly debated in the city in Washington state where the hourly minimum wage of $9.32 is already the highest in the United States. Opponents say increases would cost jobs while proponents say they are needed to lift an ailing middle class.

Mayor Ed Murray, a Democrat who won office in November promising to tackle the income gap through consensus, had been expected to announce a proposal, but instead gave his advisory panel more time.

If the committee fails to hammer out a deal, Murray said he would send his own proposal to the City Council.

"We're stuck at the moment," Murray told a news conference on Thursday. "I'd rather be late and get it right than rush it and get it wrong."

Despite a thriving technology sector and joblessness below the national average, advocates say low-wage workers are languishing - or fleeing - under stagnant incomes and high rents in a city seen as a liberal bastion.

"The middle class in this country is shrinking, it is falling apart," Murray said.

Proposals to raise the minimum wage have been considered in nearly three dozen states in 2014, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Increases have been approved in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Seattle suburb SeaTac in November approved an initiative enacting a $15 minimum wage for some workers, though it has been challenged in court.

Murray said the 24-member group broadly agreed on such principles as phasing-in a $15 hourly wage depending on company size that would be boosted over time by a cost-of-living mechanism, but he declined to say why the group failed to agree on a proposal to put to lawmakers before this week's deadline.

Murray said he sought a "super majority" to try to avoid an acrimonious and expensive ballot-box fight over competing wage initiatives pursued instead by labor, commerce or other groups that would amount to a "a mini version of class warfare."

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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