By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A plan to raise California's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 cleared its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday, putting the state on track to become the first in the nation to commit to such a large pay hike for the working poor.
The measure, incorporating a deal Governor Jerry Brown reached with labor leaders and fellow Democrats in the Legislature, was approved on a party-line vote of 12-7 by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where a previous version of the bill had stalled last summer.
One Democrat, Tom Daly, joined six Republicans in opposing the measure, which now advances to the full Assembly for action as early as this week. It would then return to the Senate for a final vote.
If enacted, the bill would put California, home to one of the world's biggest economies, in the vanguard of a growing number of U.S. states and cities that have moved in recent years to surpass the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009.
Supporters say such measures are necessary to help low-paid workers who have been slipping into poverty due to stagnant earnings and rising living expenses. Opponents say raising the mandatory wage floor puts undue strain on businesses still struggling to rebound from a prolonged U.S. economic slump.
The measure would gradually raise California's hourly minimum wage from the current level of $10 to $15 by 2022 for large businesses and by 2023 for smaller firms.
It also would head off a pair of competing ballot initiatives lacking a provision to allow the governor to suspend the increases in hard economic times, a deal breaker for Brown.
Raising the minimum wage has cropped up on many Democratic candidates' agendas ahead of the November elections, and the issue could help galvanize supporters at the polls.
But passage is not assured without backing from more moderate Democrats, including business-friendly Assembly members in swing districts who have recently held up bills that were priorities for the party's progressive wing, including a plan to cut the state's greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the governor's office, 2.2 million Californians earn the state minimum wage of $10 an hour. The bill would ultimately benefit 5.6 million workers, raising their wages by an average of 24 percent, according to an analysis from the University of California, Berkeley.
Retail employees account for 16 percent of affected workers, and restaurant employees 15 percent.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)