Some people think Republicans are knee-jerk against the minimum wage, or knee-jerk for the minimum wage.

The fact of the matter is I am neither, nor are Republicans always super pro-business or “anything-goes,” whatever capitalism wants, for example, not breaking up the Google and Amazon monopolies, or never making Real Estate Investment Trusts pay their fair share of taxes, estimated to be a $50 million-plus loss per year in Hawaii.

The minimum wage debate is a state and national phenomenon, but I want to clear up some misunderstanding about it that was created following my Opening Day speech as House minority leader.

I would like to make it very clear where I stand on this issue and set the record straight before any of this debate goes to a House vote in the next few weeks.

What I said on Opening Day was that if a minimum wage increase was “reasonable” and “in increments,” it was OK by me. That 5-minute floor speech, however, did not allow me to provide more details about what this meant or where I stand on the minimum wage if a bill does meet and pass the test of reasonableness.

Rep. Gene Ward at a Civil Cafe at the Capitol in 2018. He has clarified his remarks on a proposed minimum wage increase. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

I have four main reasons against a big jump in the minimum wage:

1. It’s a jobs killer: A large and quickly escalating increase threatens our already wobbly “mom ‘n pop” small businesses in Hawaii. Do we want more of them to go out of business, or not start new businesses? Of course not, but if the Legislature listens to the “hard left,” we’ll have a job-killer bill instead of a minimum wage bill.

Alternatively, do we want mainland chains to take over our mom ’n’ pop stores because they’ll be the only ones that can afford the high wages?

The bottom line is: Employers will hire fewer employees and will cut back on the hours of existing employees, hence a job-killer.

2. An unreasonable increase in the minimum wage will increase prices and the cost of living: It’s a simple corollary: Increased costs mean increased prices. Our small businesses will have to pass on these new labor costs to their customers — hence prices will go up and the highest cost of living in the nation will get even higher. This makes the poor even poorer and is a penny-wise, but pound-foolish policy.

3. An unreasonable minimum wage hike will wink at artificial intelligence and say “e komo mai” to the robots to come in and take our jobs: Is that really what we want? Hawaii’s unions know this is coming. Elon Musk and many others have been continually warning us that this is coming, and employees will be the first job-kills in the coming “AI Revolution.”

The reality of the matter is that artificial intelligence and robots will be incentivized to be developed all the faster, speeding up the takeover of existing jobs if there is an unreasonable wage increase. At times I can already hear Silicon Valley AI software geeks cheering on the minimum wage bill in many of our nation’s state capitols.

4. The market forces are already raising the minimum wage: One of the biggest complaints of Hawaii’s businesses is that they cannot find employees in the labor pool so they have been stealing employees from their competitors. Many restaurants in Honolulu are already advertising that new hires will be paid $12 to $13 per hour.

The bottom line is this: Raising the minimum wage too quickly posts gains in the short run but punishment for all of us in the long run.

Let’s have the small guy mom ’n’ poppers with less than 10 employees be exempt from any minimum wage increase!

And let’s consider increasing the tip credit or instituting a training wage. Experience and disciplined character development of our young people is an important future investment we’re simply not making due to the minimum wage.

We’re denying our youth the opportunity to join the workforce because of the “price-fixing” that minimum wage ideologies create.

So let’s not drink the Kool-Aid and treat the minimum wage lightly. Some legislators or reporters are taking it as a slam dunk, and that it gives the people of Hawaii a false expectation that passing an exorbitant minimum wage is just around the corner for both Democrats and Republicans.

Editor’s note: Rep. Ward says he owned and operated a retail store with his wife at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for 15 years, served as an entrepreneur trainer with the late George Kanahele, and helped over 3,000 entrepreneurs start their own business in 10 countries in Asia, Pacific and Africa.

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