The Kansas City Council can send a message Thursday to the city’s poorest workers: You deserve a raise.
Council members are expected to consider increasing the city’s minimum wage. The size of the bump is still under discussion, but it would represent a boost for Kansas Citians who need it most.
The case for a minimum wage increase isn’t really debatable. In Missouri, it’s now $7.70 an hour. The wage would need to reach nearly $11 an hour just to equal the purchasing power of the 1968 minimum wage.
Somehow, fast food restaurants were able to stay open in 1968, despite the higher pay.
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The need is clear. The politics are murky — the vote may end up being largely symbolic — but the council should act regardless.
Councilman Quinton Lucas will offer Thursday’s minimum wage hike, based on an increase approved by the council two years ago and then repealed.
The Missouri Supreme Court’s decision reinstating the higher minimum wage in St. Louis has provided an opportunity for a similar jump here, Lucas believes.
Republican state legislators are rushing to prevent that outcome. GOP lawmakers think they have the votes to prevent any increases, even retroactively, but they’re cramming the bill through the legislative process anyway.
In the past, Kansas City Mayor Sly James has bemoaned Jefferson City’s repeated interference with city affairs. He has complained about state pre-emption of gun laws, Missouri tax policies, even control of the local police department.
Yet on this issue — strangely, and regrettably — James has bowed to the General Assembly, allowing its judgment to override that of his residents.
It isn’t clear why he’s willing to surrender. Outgoing St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay testified Monday in Jefferson City, urgently defending the higher minimum wage in his community. Kansas City’s mayor was nowhere to be found.
Instead, James told reporters he’ll offer a resolution calling for a statewide petition drive to raise the minimum wage. A popular vote, he thinks, is the only way to overcome legislative intransigence.
He’s right that the legislature could discard a local increase. But that only means the city risks little by passing it: If it’s overturned, the current wage remains intact.
If the legislature does step aside, thousands of Kansas Citians would get the raise they deserve.
There are rumblings James is worried the legislature will cut Kansas City’s earnings tax as punishment if the city increases the wage. The earnings tax burden is an important discussion to have — there may be ways to reduce its impact on the poor — but that debate shouldn’t be linked to the minimum wage.
And remember: A petition drive would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take months.
James has supported wage increases in the past. He can do so again Thursday. The city can easily endorse both a statewide vote and a local increase. It will take nine council votes to approve the hike.
Council members should do just that.