Mayor Sly James has maneuvered to delay any Kansas City Council vote on a new “living wage” proposal, saying the matter is too important for a hasty decision.
The ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Jermaine Reed, was discussed last week at a meeting of the council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee and was expected to get a positive committee vote Wednesday.
But on Monday, James announced that he had reassigned the proposal to the full council, which sets the stage for more extensive debate and hearings. It also delays a decision, because the full council is not scheduled to take up the measure this week.
“This is an important and complex issue that has major impact on our citizens and the business community, so the entire City Council should be engaged in the important discussion of whether and how to implement a living wage in Kansas City,” James said in a news release.
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The measure would require Kansas City employers to pay no less than $10 per hour beginning Sept. 1, with the minimum wage gradually rising to $15 per hour by 2020.
Last week a group of civil rights and African-American religious leaders urged the planning committee to support a living wage and forward it on for a full council vote without further debate. The meeting was sparsely attended, with no business leaders present, and only one person spoke against the proposal.
Most committee members appeared receptive to the idea, but chairman Ed Ford, a lawyer, was concerned that Missouri law currently prohibits cities from requiring any level of pay above the state minimum wage of $7.65 per hour.
James has expressed similar concerns that the city ordinance as proposed would violate state law. The four lawyers on the City Council are scheduled to meet Wednesday with City Attorney Bill Geary to discuss the pertinent issues.
In his news release, James said too many key stakeholders had not yet voiced an opinion, and he pointed out that some prominent employers are raising wages on their own.
“Clearly economic conditions are changing,” James said. “To enact an ordinance requiring a certain wage without understanding the ramifications of those changes could be counterproductive.”
Reed and other supporters of the measure could not be reached Monday for comment about the delay, but they suggested last week that supporters would gather signatures of registered voters during Tuesday’s election in order to put something on a future ballot if the council declines to act.