One has to wonder if some Machiavellian forces are at work to undermine the good efforts of the past Kansas City Council.
The art and wisdom of compromise is about to get a workout in Kansas City politics. And it will be the newly sworn-in council members who will bear the darts and daggers. They were tested Thursday, forced to decide whether to place a ballot initiative before voters in November to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020. They had no choice. It’s on the ballot. The council would have courted legal trouble if it did anything different.
Yes, we crossed this bridge in July, when the former council members made the wise choice of incrementally raising the base wage to $13 by 2020. The first jump was to occur this month, up to $8.50 per hour, from the state-mandated wage of $7.65.
But there are those who still stand firmly opposed to that hard-won compromise. And they come from both angles, a threat that just may wipe out any gains for the working poor.
A group of restaurant and business owners opposes the council’s July decision, and it is seeking signatures for a referendum. We’ll know later this month if it is successful. A good bet is that it will be. And the state legislature will also keep attempting to nullify any city effort to raise the base wage.
Meanwhile, the advocates for raising the wage aren’t satisfied with the council’s July decision and want to keep pressing for $15 by 2020. There needs to be some admittance that Kansas City’s cost of living is not nearly as high as cities like Seattle and San Francisco, which have agreed to the $15 wage.
And too often, conversations against raising the wage degenerate into takedowns of the people working at this pay level. Demeaning attitudes that people are not worth any more than the current state limit are not helpful.
Lost in that lack of analysis is any recognition that wages for a huge portion of the population, including the middle class, have been stagnant for decades. The reasons are multilayered and very connected to what is happening for those who are paid the least.
Denying that reality is just as foolhardy as assuming that all businesses can easily readjust, absorbing the costs of higher salaries by nipping a little off the owner’s profit margin. Again, it’s far more complicated than that for many businesses.
There is middle ground here. And the contingents at both ends would be wise to lay down their swords and keep searching for it.