City council gets options on minimum wage hike

City council hearing on minimum wage.

City council hearing on minimum wage.

A controversy became more tangled Thursday as the city council held a public hearing on raising the minimum wage.

City Attorney Bill Geary, who has said existing state law forbids the city from raising the wage, reported Thursday that the state legislature has inadvertently opened a temporary way around that.

It has passed a bill, awaiting the governor’s signature, that would flatly forbid cities from raising minimum wages. But the tougher touch also says the new law that would go into effect Aug. 28 would not change wage laws that cities pass before that.

Geary said the state supreme court has ruled, wisely or not, that laws must be interpreted with the assumption that the state legislature would not make meaningless or nonsense laws.

So its action to allow a minimum wage hike that was not allowed before cannot be held meaningless, he said.

The new state law would go into effect if the governor signs it, or if the general assembly overrides a veto by him.

Geary said that gives the city three options. It can pass its ordinance that raises the wage to $10 in September and up to $15 by 2020.

A citizen group claims it has raised enough signatures to put the matter to a city vote, but that has not been certified by the city. If certified by next week’s council meeting, the city can approve putting it on an August ballot before the new state law goes into effect.

Or the city can approve putting the matter to a city vote in early August on its own, Geary said.

Mayor Sly James said the council is still gathering information and will hear from experts at the noon meeting next Thursday.

Yesterday, citizens crowded the city council chamber and many spoke.

Peter Eaton, a UMKC economics professor, said if a a $15 standard spread statewide it would affect 48.7 percent of wage earners, increase wage income by $10.8 billion or maybe three times that because of multiplier effects.

The risk for the city taking such a lead would be that some employers may move to adjacent cities that do not have the higher minimum wage, Eaton said.

But he also said to applause, “If small business can’t afford to pay its laborers a living wage, they don’t deserve to be in business.”

The city should take the moral high ground by passing the increase, he said.

Bud Nicol, executive director of the Hotel and Lodging Association, said the increase would lead to layoffs and jobs moving to Kansas and other cities.

“Instead of seeing game on,” he said, you’ll start to see signs saying game over, gone to Kansas.”

Victor Allred, chairman of the board of the Missouri Restaurant Association, said the increase would result in the loss of thousands of jobs.

Patrick Tuohey, western Missouri field manager of the conservative Show-Me Institute, said “Minimum wage is a very clumsy, broad weapon to use to address poverty.”

It hurts the people it is meant to help by eliminating jobs, Tuohey said. “When you raise the minimum wage, the low-skilled people at the greatest disadvantage are the ones who lose out.”

Vernon Howard, a vice president with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the minimum wage increase is needed on moral grounds.

He carried an empty folding chair to represent those he said could not be there to speak.

“They are not politically connected,” he said, “they do not have power and influence.”

Sharon Al-Ugdah, leader of Jobs for Justice, asked the council to add an inflation index that would increase the minimum wage after 2020.

“The truth is that raising the minimum wage is not only the ethical thing to do but it is also the honorable thing to do,” she said.

Ortis Osmara said she makes $8.30 an hour and can work only part time because she cannot afford day care.

“I cannot drive my car because I can’t afford to renew the tags,” she said.

James said the council would gather information and then hear from experts from both sides at next week’s special meeting.

“Same place, same mash up,” he said.


  1. Rose says:

    it’s about time.

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