In the coming weeks and months, there’s a real chance that Nevada’s minimum wage will rise for the first time in years. There are two separate proposals floating around Carson City that would change the wage to either $15 an hour or $12 an hour, depending on the proposal. At either level, a change would nearly double the current minimum wage of $8.25 per hour, which is itself just a dollar more than the federally mandated minimum.

We think this change, in either form, is overdue. For too long, Nevada’s lowest wage workers have been paid what essentially amounts to a poverty wage. More than that, these changes would positively affect the lives of 300,000 Nevadans at the minimum and move the state that much closer to ensuring its citizens are paid a living wage.

Specifically, we feel the senate proposal, which would raise the minimum wage to $12, is best. Over the next five years, it would raise the minimum wage by 75 cents every year until it hits $12 (or $11 if the employer provides health insurance). It’s not the most glamorous proposal in the world, especially compared to $15, but it’s the safest economic bet the state can make while still improving conditions for low-wage workers.

At $12 an hour, Nevada’s minimum wage would remain comparable to other states in our region. California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona each have voted to raise the minimum wage in response to inflation. Increasing the minimum wage would encourage workers to remain in Nevada, seeing as our cost of living is still low compared to states like California and Washington.

More than that, moving the wage to $12 would keep the difference between Nevada’s and California’s wage the same, mitigating any possible job loss that might be caused from California’s fairly large increase to $15.

However, whichever proposal wins out, there need to be certain concessions, especially for small businesses. These businesses often operate at razor-thin profit margins that can’t sustain even a small increase in the wage. Without some kind of protection, a minimum wage increase has the possibility to be devastating to these mom-n-pop businesses that often form the backbone of local economies.

Ultimately, this is an opportunity that only happens in Nevada once every two years, due to the biennial nature of the state legislature. For over a decade, the minimum wage has been stagnant and the state’s lowest wage workers have been paying the price. Nevadans shouldn’t have to spend another two years languishing at the bottom. It’s simply not worth it.