In San Jose, Voters Ponder Raising Minimum Wage by 25 Percent

Aerial view of downtown San Jose.

Aerial view of downtown San Jose. (Helene Labriet-Gross/AFP/Getty Images)

What started as a San Jose State University class project has morphed into a real politics. In November, San Jose voters will vote on Measure D [PDF] — which would raise the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $10 an hour.

Both sides claim their arguments are simple. If you think $8 an hour is not a livable wage in San Jose, then you should vote yes. If you think hiking the minimum wage by 25 percent would cost jobs, then vote no.

But like most things in life and politics, nothing is really that simple, as evidenced by the Measure D debate on KQED’s Forum Wednesday morning. One of the main arguments against Measure D is that it would make San Jose an island of higher minimum wage and would put San Jose businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Larry Stone, Santa Clara County’s assessor and a local businessman, disagreed, pointing out that nearby cities Fremont and Campbell have different sales tax rates.

“So I don’t see any reason why San Jose cannot have its own minimum wage,” he said. “The other thing is it’s more expensive to live in San Jose than in other parts of the state. You cannot live on the same amount of money in San Jose as you can in Fresno or Redding or any other place in the state. So it makes sense to me to have a variance between the minimum wage as well as other costs, city by city depending on the cost of living.”

Matthew Mahood, president and CEO of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged the differences in sales tax rates but said Stone’s argument was “incomplete.” Mahood talked about the geography of the San Jose area and how main streets ignore city borders.

“You have main corridors — Bascom Avenue, Stevens Creek Boulevard — where if this minimum wage increase is passed, on one side of the street you’ll have employers paying one minimum wage under one set of government-mandated regulations, and on the other side of the street you’ll have businesses at a competitive advantage paying a lower wage,” he said. “Valley Fair Mall has Santa Clara on one side and San Jose on the other. The city border runs right down the middle of that mall. So within one mall you can have two different wage rates.”

The two men sparred over whether researchers had found that minimum wage increases had no impact on jobs (Stone) or were split (Mahood). In any case, the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber is Commerce is releasing a report later this week which, Mahood says, shows that Measure D will cost jobs.

Mahood also said a poll of the Chambers membership who employee minimum wage workers showed that 67 percent said they would cut hours and 43 percent they would have to lay off workers. He said a hike from $8 an hour to $10 — a 25 percent increases plus payroll taxes on top of the wage increase — is too much at once.

Stone returned to the moral argument — that $8 an hour is simply not a livable wage. “The main point on this is it’s the right thing to do. People who work hard, who play by rules should make a fair wage,” he stated. “Workers should be able to live modestly where they work. You cannot live on $16,400 a year or $1,300 a month when that’s $500 less than the average rent right now of $1,800 in San Jose. The current wage is simply not livable and I think it’s deplorable that anyone would not favor this.”

Learn More about Measure D:

Listen to the Complete Forum Discussion on Measure D:

San Jose’s Measure D Would Raise City’s Minimum Wage 25 Percent

In San Jose, Once a Class Project, Now a Major Political Battle