Could Virginia become a minimum wage battleground?

Posted at 6:15 PM, Dec 17, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-17 21:23:51-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Increasing the minimum wage is a controversial subject.

Earlier this month, President Obama called on Congress to pass a minimum wage increase. The current federal level of $7.25 took effect in 2009.

Some believe an increase in the minimum wage could lift some workers past the poverty limit. On the other side of the wage hike fence, opponents believe the increase of their expenses will cost people their jobs, or that the consumer will have to pay for the increase.

Local family-owned restaurant Off the Grid Cafe in Midlothian recently celebrated its first anniversary, despite the challenges of a restaurant business.

"I’m not making billions of dollars a year,” Mary Ann Rosenberg, owner of the cafe said.

She has to watch every penny going out and coming in.

"I try and keep my prices competitive, because I’m a small business trying to compete with the franchises and the chains,” Rosenberg said.

For those reasons, she said, she gets concerned over talk of increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50.

"If I have to pay someone more to be employed here, I will have to increase my prices and I think that hurts everybody all around,” Rosensberg said.

She isn't alone either; many believe an increase in minimum wage would have a negative impact on the economy.

"Jobs are the big issue and if it costs employer's more to pay people, there's going to be fewer jobs,” Ron Voli said.

Delegate Joe Morrissey said that in January he will introduce a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage.

"Increase that minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, we will have less people on the poverty limit and more people becoming productive, wage earning, pay their own way citizens,” Morrissey said.

"It will make a big difference, because in the economy everything is going up and on minimum wages, you ain't making enough to even hardly pay your bills or anything else so, if it goes up, at least it will be a big help,” Calvin Wyche, for increasing minimum wage, said.

Virginia’s neighbors have started moving forward with an increase in pay. These steps have happened on the tail of  a report that half of fast food workers have to rely on public assistance programs since their wages aren’t enough to support them, therefore transferring some fiscal responsibility onto the consumer regardless.

The Prince George's County executive on Tuesday signed into law an increase that brings the minimum wage there to $11.50 in 2017. Nearly identical legislation was signed last week in neighboring Montgomery County. A similar increase is headed to Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray's desk after the district council voted, also on Tuesday, to approve the measure.

Conventional wisdom says increasing wages leads to job losses, but business groups weren't opposed to Prince George's County's increase, said David Harrington, president and CEO of the county chamber of commerce

Minimum wage in the two Maryland counties is currently the federal minimum of $7.25 and will increase gradually over four years. In Prince George's, the first step is to $9.55 next October. Washington is considering an increase phased in over three years.

Delegate Morrissey said he believes if those in the General Assembly look at the data they will vote in favor of the increase.

***Reporting from CNNWire contributed to this report***