Kansas City Mayor Sly James tried last week to, as he put it, “slow the train down” on a major boost in the minimum wage.
“This is a huge policy decision,” he said.
Two factors drove the City Council’s haste in considering a higher minimum wage. State law arguably offers a narrow time window for the city to pass such a measure. And a petition forcing a vote on the increase must also be addressed.
Thursday, James insisted the time pressure was too great. Something as critical as a $15 hourly wage deserved study and compromise before becoming law, he argued, so he cut a deal to postpone consideration of the measure until July.
The mayor’s patience on a minimum wage hike may or may not be commendable — your view may depend on whether you’re earning $8 an hour or $8,000 a week. But perhaps we can all agree that it’s curious, to say the least, that the mayor’s slow-it-down approach doesn’t apparently apply to other huge policy decisions.
Like, say, $150 million in subsidies and tax breaks for a downtown convention hotel.
The mayor announced the general outline of the hotel plan May 11. It rocketed through the council in less than two weeks, with a stated goal of full legislative and regulatory approval by Aug. 1. That’s less than 90 days.
Hotel boosters say they need quick answers so they can lock in low-cost loans and construction prices. Really? Interest rates have been stable for months and bidding on such a major project is likely to be competitive. Something else must be at work.
We know this: As details of the hotel plan emerge, the “ick” factor grows. It now looks like the project depends on public incentives for roughly half its cost — justifiable, perhaps, but still pretty steep. And the longer the hotel remains on the docket, the longer opponents have to raise questions about the deal.
The mayor is probably bothered by that. He’s worked for years to bring the complicated hotel plan to the table, and may now believe a lengthy public review would jeopardize it.
He’s played a lesser role, on the other hand, with the minimum-wage increase. Working people, not developers and lawyers, are driving that conversation.
“This is an absolutely horrible way to make policy decisions,” James said last week, referring to the minimum-wage effort.
It’s the common lament of the elected official: Let us decide, not you. If a $15 hourly wage deserves lengthy scrutiny, a $150 million hotel subsidy probably does, too.