Minimum wage change stirs concerns for jobs in county

By Pat Caldwell
For the Malheur Enterprise

Malheur County Commissioner Dan Joyce said he’s concerned about the short and long-term impacts of the state’s new minimum wage law locally.

He said so far he does not know of any area businesses that have decided to leave the county for states – such as Idaho – where the minimum wage is lower than Oregon. However, he said the possibility businesses will depart is a possibility.

“We get one story after another here in the courthouse about people in Nyssa looking for property in Idaho for their onion processing facilities,” he said.

Joyce said he believes businesses may be holding off plans to relocate for one reason.

“They only thing holding them back is that there may be some consideration to resuscitate the (minimum wage law) issue and work out some exemptions,” Joyce said.

Malheur County’s delegate in the Oregon House of Representatives, Ontario attorney Cliff Bentz, said recently that there is a real chance that during the next legislative session some form of modification to the minimum wage law can be secured.

The minimum wage bill ratified by the Oregon Legislature will push the minimum wage up in 18 rural counties, including Malheur County, from $9.25 to $9.50 by July 1. Then, the wage will climb by 50 center every July 1 during the next six years. The wage will eventually top out at $12.50 in July 2022 in Eastern Oregon. The bill also contains two other categories of wage boosts, one for the Portland area – where it will peak at $14.75 an hour in 2022 – and one hike that impacts Eugene, Salem, Bend and other areas of Oregon.

It is no secret the major economic engine in Malheur County is agriculture. For example, according to statistics from the National Agriculture Statistics Service, Oregon State University Extension Service, in 2012 the county was the top producer of cattle and calves in the state. That same year, the county was No. 4 in the top five counties in total agriculture sales for Oregon.

Joyce said he already knows of at least one local rancher who will make changes to their operation because of the minimum wage law.

“I talked to a sheep man who was going to cut back several bands,” he said.

Joyce conceded one problem tied to the minimum wage mandate was the fact that rural counties don’t seem to have much political influence in terms of voter numbers. He said the region’s two key elected leaders – Bentz and Sen. Ted Ferrioli – do many good things for voters but he suggested another method to equalize the political playing field.

“There is probably one thing that would work well for some of these smaller population counties and that would be a requirement to pass (laws) county-by-county. That would take a lot of pressure off the elected officers and the businesses here. I think it would even it up. It is obviously