Plan to raise California minimum wage to $15 passes in key committee
A FedEx employee sorts packages at a shipping center (AFP Photo/Joe Raedle)

A plan to raise California's minimum wage to $15 passed its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday, clearing a key committee and putting the state on track to become the first in the nation to commit to such a large raise for the working poor.

If passed by the full state legislature, the plan by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown would commit the state, home to one of the world's biggest economies, to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current $10 by 2022 for large businesses and 2023 for smaller firms.

It would also head off a pair of competing ballot initiatives championed by labor leaders to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour without allowing the governor to halt increases in bad times, a deal breaker for Brown.

Raising the minimum wage has cropped up on many Democratic Party candidates' agendas ahead of the November elections and the issue could help mobilize Democratic voters to the polls.

But passage of the proposal is not guaranteed without support from more moderate members of the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Wednesday's approval by the Assembly Appropriations committee, where a similar bill stalled last year amid opposition from Brown and moderate Democrats, signals its possible success before the full Assembly, as early as this week.

Republicans and moderate Democrats on the committee said during debate on Wednesday they were concerned about raising wages so high in the poorest regions of the state, where the cost of living is not as high as in cities like San Francisco. Several indicated they would raise similar concerns once the measure is heard on the Assembly floor.To pass the full Assembly, the measure will need to win support of business-friendly Democrats in swing districts who have recently held up bills that were priorities for the party's progressive wing, including a plan to dramatically reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions for which the governor and Democratic leaders had pushed hard.

The idea of raising the minimum wage, which at the federal level has remained at $7.25 an hour for more than six years, has been opposed by Republicans and some business groups, who say it would harm small businesses and strain government budgets.

According to the governor's office, 2.2 million Californians earn the state minimum wage of $10 an hour.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)