Evidence is mounting that the worthwhile battle to increase the minimum wage in Kansas City is going to be extremely messy.
The stakes are high. The goal is to require businesses to more fairly reward employees in low-paying jobs.
After weeks of contentious meetings, the City Council took the first needed step earlier this month. It approved a measure that would boost minimum pay to $8.50 an hour on Aug. 24, up from the current $7.65 required by state law. The council properly embraced the position that the increase plus later ones would reduce poverty and improve the standard of living for many low-income residents.
But hold everything.
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The ordinance probably won’t take effect as scheduled. A business group likely will have until at least Aug. 25 to gather signatures on a petition drive to overturn what they contend is a job-killing local law.
The new petition drive by restaurant, hotel and other businesses isn’t surprising. It had surfaced as a possibility during negotiations with the council.
Still, it’s disappointing that some business owners want to kill the council’s new law. It called for mostly reasonable, stepped annual increases in the wage, up to $13 an hour by 2020. That’s shy of the $15-an-hour demand from many groups working for higher wages in Kansas City and elsewhere in the nation.
Meanwhile, faith-based and social justice organizations still have the potential to pursue their own local election to boost the wage floor even higher than the council has established.
Ultimately, it’s possible the new City Council that takes office on Saturday could weigh in and try to find common ground for proponents and opponents. That may be too optimistic to hope for, given the gulf between the parties.
It’s thus possible that Kansas City voters eventually could weigh in on two widely different ways to resolve the minimum wage debate.
Ultimately, it would be best for Missouri voters to pass a law that would set a baseline for a higher minimum wage across the state. The law should allow cities in urban areas — especially the Kansas City and St. Louis regions — to establish even higher pay scales if they are reasonable ways to deal with the cost of living.
Right now, Kansas City is in danger of spinning its wheels for months on an issue crucial to thousands of residents and many businesses.