Kansas City Council members are gearing up to hold one of their most contentious meetings in recent memory. The outcomes could affect thousands of local workers, large and small employers, and many building owners for years to come.
Two issues will dominate when Mayor Sly James and the council gather Thursday:
▪ Can they agree to approve a reasonable plan to increase the city’s minimum wage?
▪ Will they pass a forward-thinking ordinance aimed at boosting energy efficiency in large buildings?
The Star generally supports both of these solid public policy ideas.
One has the potential to help more people earn livable wages, which could create a healthier local economy with fewer people needing public assistance.
The other could prompt building upgrades that would reduce energy use and bills for tenants.
Critics contend that Kansas City should not take bold stands on these issues because other local cities aren’t doing the same things. In particular, James and others keep hearing that Johnson County will benefit if Kansas City acts.
That’s shortsighted. Kansas City was aggressive, for instance, in pushing a smoking ban in public places a decade ago. The move has reduced the damage caused by smoking to peoples’ health while not restricting the number of bars and restaurants in the city. Plus, Johnson County and other suburban areas now have their own smoking bans.
Regarding the minimum wage, the council will have three options: approve its own ordinance; place its own ordinance before voters on Aug. 4; or approve ballot language sought through a successful initiative petition for an Aug. 4 election.
If a measure passes this week, or at the polls Aug. 4, it apparently will take effect before a Missouri law could be in place to block such a move.
The best plan to emerge from City Hall would establish a higher minimum wage for later in 2015, and then outline a schedule of future increases.
Boosting the required minimum pay in the city from $7.65 an hour to somewhere around $10 could make good sense. It is clear that the city’s current minimum, which matches Missouri law, has not enabled many fast-food, restaurant and other service workers to make a living wage. Low-wage workers continue to fall behind. Indeed, the federal minimum of $1.60 an hour in 1968 would be around $11 today adjusted for inflation.
But then what?
Many supporters of higher pay are pushing James and the council to back a proposal that would set the minimum wage at $15 an hour by 2020. A similar move was tentatively approved Tuesday in Los Angeles and has passed in other cities such as Seattle and Chicago.
But harsh critics in Kansas City — including restaurant and hotel organizations — already are balking at talk of a $10-an-hour wage and bristle at the possibility of a bigger boost within five years.
The Star has not endorsed a national $15-an-hour campaign, partly because it’s unclear how that large increase would affect the local economy. To its credit, the council has invited experts to present testimony on that subject on Thursday.
The bottom line: Kansas City needs to join other progressive cities that are setting higher minimum wages than required by federal or state law.
The same general theme is true in our support for more energy efficient buildings.
Minneapolis and other cities require selected building owners to measure and report their energy use. That can be valuable information for renters and office users. This kind of reporting promotes conservation, reduces energy costs and cuts harmful pollution through the burning of less coal.
The City Council on Thursday should seize both of these opportunities to improve lives and the future of Kansas City.