SALEM — A group of Portland business leaders wants to shape the debate over raising Oregon’s minimum wage ahead of the 2016 legislative session.
New Seasons Market co-founder Stan Amy formed North Star Civic Foundation earlier this year with his wife Christy Eugenis, who is a partner in a real estate development company, and Rejuvenation Hardware founder Jim Kelly.
The group plans to work on solutions to income inequality and climate change, and it is quietly arranging a statewide listening tour to learn what Oregonians think about the state’s minimum wage. The tour appears to be an effort to develop a minimum wage proposal with support from rural areas as well as urban centers.
“Oregon has one of the strongest track records of bipartisanship in the country, but in recent years we’ve seen more polarization,” North Star Civic Foundation executive director Caitlin Baggott wrote in an email. Baggott helped launch the Portland get-out-the-vote nonprofit Bus Project in 2002 and served as its executive director form 2011 to 2013.
Amy said part of the group’s strategy was to work “in the background,” and he referred questions to Baggott.
Oregon’s minimum wage is currently $9.25 an hour and two existing coalitions, 15 Now Oregon and Raise the Wage, are promoting competing proposals to increase it. Both coalitions include unions, and both plan to seek ballot measures in 2016.
Raise the Wage wants a ballot measure that would increase the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2018, and 15 Now Oregon has filed paperwork for a measure that would raise the wage gradually to $15 per hour by 2019. Raise the Wage also plans to push for legislation next year that would increase the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour.
North Star Civic Foundation has not yet put forward its own minimum wage proposal, and Baggott said the group wants to first gather input from people around the state. However, the group is concerned about “the growing share of low-wage workers who cannot earn enough to support themselves without government assistance,” Baggott wrote in an email.
“It is clear that the minimum wage will be a major focus in next legislative session and that if it is not resolved in that session expectations are it will be on the ballot the following November — where current polling shows strong support for an increased wage,” Baggott wrote. “We’re in the process of organizing a series of “kitchen table” conversations around the state with rural and urban business owners, farmers, non-profit leaders, and community groups this fall.”
As North Star Civic Foundation planned the conversations, the group sought recommendations from newspaper executives around the state. Publishers of the Daily Astorian and East Oregonian newspapers were among those that helped North Star Civic Foundation connect with local business leaders and other community members.
Baggott said North Star Civic Foundation wants to engage “people on all sides of this issue. We are optimistic that there is an opportunity to find common ground and a path forward that works for all of Oregon’s communities, and for all the parts of Oregon’s economy.”