LOS ANGELES — Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire, rose to fame by promoting a ballot initiative that essentially eliminated bilingual education in California. He went on to become publisher of The American Conservative, a libertarian-leaning magazine.
But after decades in the conservative movement, Unz is pursuing a goal that has stymied liberals: raising the minimum wage.
He plans to pour his own money into a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage in California to $10 an hour in 2015 and $12 in 2016.
Currently, it is $8. That’s 75 cents higher than the federal minimum.
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Using what he sees as conservative principles to advocate a policy long championed by the left, Unz argues that significantly raising the minimum wage would help curb government spending on social services, strengthen the economy and make more jobs attractive to U.S.-born workers.
“There are so many very low-wage workers, and we pay for huge social-welfare programs for them,” he said.
“This would save something on the order of tens of billions of dollars. Doesn’t it make more sense for employers to pay their workers than the government?”
Unz plans to submit the ballot language to the California secretary of state on Tuesday, declaring his intention to gather enough signatures to place it on the ballot in 2014.
President Obama has called for raising the federal minimum wage to $9 from $7.25, but has received little support from Congress.
Unz has spent nearly $1 million on previous ballot measures and said he was prepared to spend some of his own fortune on this initiative.
He added, though, he expected the cost to be “minimal” because he anticipates widespread support.
But businesses would almost certainly spend to defeat the measure.
Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2016.
The California Chamber of Commerce labeled the bill a “job killer” and said such a large increase would raise the unemployment rate and put the state’s precarious economic recovery at risk.
A spokeswoman for the group declined to comment on Unz’s proposal.
Unz brushes aside such criticism, saying the size of California’s economy — which, at about $1.9 trillion, is bigger than most countries’ — would prevent any large-scale movement of jobs to other states.
National polls suggest raising the minimum wage is popular, and Unz said he believed such a measure would pass easily in California, where an estimated 1.6 million residents earn less than $10 an hour.
Unz wrote in the magazine last year that manufacturing “sweatshops” that rely on immigrant workers, including those in the country illegally, were among the few industries that would be devastated by a higher minimum wage.