Minimum wage vote could cost $500,000 – and be meaningless

untitled-(16-of-18)The city council on Thursday approved a Nov. 3 election for a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, although city attorney Bill Geary called the situation the most confusing procedural matter he’s seen in a long time.

In a complex mess, the city council recently approved a gradual minimum wage increase to $13 an hour by 2020. That was in hopes that those behind a petition drive with enough signatures would not move for a vote on $15 an hour by 2020.

But the advocates did anyway and the council Thursday had to put it on the Nov. 3 ballot.

But city attorneys contend it is likely illegal, and clearly illegal in many cases, for the city to raise the wage.

“It’s possible we would be calling an election that would cost $500,000 and be meaningless,” said City Attorney Bill Geary.

He has said the only legal way to raise the wage was if the Missouri General Assembly passes a new bill that clearly forbids cities to raise it unless they enact the laws before Aug. 28 (which was the language in a bill passed, then vetoed by the governor).

That bill, before the veto, opened a window, Geary said, but the city will not be able to make that window because its Aug. 24 ordinance increase to $8.50 an hour on the way to $13 an hour will be delayed by the petitioners demand for a vote on $15 an hour.

Also, the governor’s veto of the Republican bill may be overridden on Sept. 16.

The Nov. 3 city vote can only be delayed by a court order by Sept. 22, which is not possible so quickly in the wake of a Sept. 16 veto override vote.

So the city ordinance Thursday included a legally untested clause saying election officials can call off a city vote if there is an override on Sept 16.

The alternative, Geary said, is there is an expensive vote that means nothing. The city council could vote to overturn an illegal winning public vote or lose an expensive lawsuit by opponents, he said.

Of course there are more complexities. Opponents are gathering signatures for a vote to overturn the city increase to $13 an hour.

And in a confidential memo to council members published by St. Louis public radio, Geary warned of fighting back against powerful conservative legislators.

“…to act in an area that is already preempted by the state of Missouri, may only encourage those in the General Assembly who believe local governments are lawless wastelands of social engineering, to continue their assaults on local governments.”

Conservative state legislators believe that what is good for places like Portageville, Mo., is good for Kansas City, he said.

“To take action that is, at least in my opinion, preempted by the state already, can only generate fuel for the fire of stripping local government of their ability to address local issues.”

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