The plight of low wage workers has been put on the shelf for far too long and Seattle’s push towards better pay has been an important step forward in recognizing the problems these workers face. On June 2nd, 2014 the Seattle City Council approved the $15 minimum wage. This vote serves as a milestone decision and gives hope to many low wage workers in other cities around the United States where income inequality is hindering their daily lives and driving them to poverty.
What does it mean now that Seattle has approve the 15 dollar minimum wage?
Currently, low wage workers in the United States struggle to pay bills and provide for their families because they don’t make enough money to account for those costs. Some people believe an increased minimum wage will be good for Seattle’s economy and will lift thousands out of poverty. However, others worry that it puts a lot of stress on small business owners and reduces the number of jobs because higher wages would force employers to try and compensate for labor costs.
SO…what is Seattle doing to address these concerns?
Seattle is the first major city to take such swift action in addressing the issue of income inequality. Still, the city is taking the aforementioned concerns into account by implementing an incremental plan. Starting April 1st, 2014 the minimum wage will increase to either $10 or $11 depending on the employer. City council members have worked hard to reach a compromise which they feel “recognizes the harm caused by stagnant wages and the harm to local businesses should [they] move forward too quickly.”
The hope is that the increased minimum wage will give low wage workers some room to breathe. Although there will continue to be conflicting views and many challenges , there is no denying that the organizational efforts of those who were part of the increased minimum wage movement were successful. Their victory will serve as an example for many cities and states across the country. San Francisco is already following in the footsteps of Seattle. Last week, San Francisco’s mayor proposed a measure that, if approved by voters in the fall, would increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2018.
This blog post was written by our summer Bus Intern Amulya Cherala.
President Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union speech last night, once again pleading with congress to you, know, legislate or something.
More newsworthy was Obama’s decision to take action on his own, circumventing congress’s political gridlock to work on addressing our country’s growing problem with income inequality.
While Obama asked congress to pass a bipartisan bill raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, he also decided to issue an executive order mandating all federal contractors start paying $10.10 an hour immediately. “If you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes,” said Obama. “You should not have to live in poverty.”
Personally I’d say if you are working a full time job (or two) you shouldn’t have to live in poverty either, but I guess that’s outside of Obama’s hands.
Using an executive order to push for progressive employment policies is nothing new. Franklin D. Roosevelt passed an executive order back in 1941 prohibiting racial discrimination in the national defense industry. Closer to home, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order raising all City employees wages to $15 an hour.
And perhaps following in the lead of successful movements such as SeaTac’s Good Jobs initiative, Obama spoke directly to local leaders:
“To every mayor, governor, state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on.”
Currently in Washington State Governor Inslee has suggested raising the current minimum wage of $9.32 an hour an extra $1.50 to $2.50, and Representative Jessyn Farrell introduced a bill raising the state minimum wage to $12. The bill currently has 32 sponsors in the Democratically controlled house.
And Seattle itself is working to extend the $15 an hour minimum to all workers, not just city employees. The City Council and the Mayor’s Office are deliberating on how best to implement the wage increase, with added urgency from Councilmember Sawant’s threat to send an initiative directly to Seattle voters.
Realistically Congress isn’t going to pass a minimum wage increase in the next two years. But the issue clearly has popular support. Legislators who don’t realize that may find themselves out of a pretty high paying job. Perhaps then and only then will they appreciate how hard it is to get by on the current minimum wage.
This blog post was written by Devin Glaser, longtime friend and volunteer of the Bus.
Last month Washington voters passed Initiative 1185, a third Initiative from conservative activist Tim Eyman that imposes a two-thirds majority requirement to raise any revenue in Washington State.
In 2007, Initiative 960, Eyman’s first 2/3 Initiative passed with 51.24% of the vote. In 2010, after the legislature overturned 960, Eyman’s 1053 passed with 63.75% of the vote. Currently 1185 is passing with 63.91% of the vote. Tellingly, none of these bills would have become law if they were subject to the same 2/3 requirement placed upon the legislature.
In fact, none of the ballot measures on the 2012 ballot would have passed the 2/3 requirement. No marriage equality (54%), no marijuana (56%), no charter schools (50.69%). Even President Obama didn’t manage to pull in 2/3 of the electorate in deep blue Washington state.
Which is part of why a King County Superior Court found Initiative 1053 unconstitutional back in May of this year. Super-majority requirements are in practice unattainable. The State Supreme Court has yet to set a date on when they will decide on the case, but will likely do so before the January legislative session. If they don’t, the 2/3 majority requirement will still be considered unconstitutional when state legislators return to Olympia.
What’s At Stake:
Washington State is not paying its bills. After a drawn-out recession, we’re simply not raising enough revenue to keep up with a very baseline upkeep. Our state-based revenue system falls disproportionately on the poor and is slow to adapt to changes in market conditions and demographic shifts and trends.
The Washington State Budget and Policy Center finds that state revenue is projected to come in at $4.8 billion less than our current obligations. This includes vital state services plus our state’s “new” obligation to fund schools due to the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.
As just one example of many, according to the 2010 census, Washington State spends $9,452 per student each year. Contrast that with Washington DC, which spends $18,667. Do we value our student’s education half as much as our country’s capital?
Can’t Squeeze Blood from a Stone
Washington voters are pretty consistent about their desires to lower taxes. On the same ballot voters approved the 2/3rds requirement, they rejected two non-binding advisory votes to raise revenue by removing a deduction used by large out-of-state banks and delaying the expiration of a current tax on petroleum manufacturers. (Both votes have mere symbolic effect thanks to a prior Eyman Initiative.)
And I’m empathetic. Low-income and middle income Washington residents are feeling the squeeze. (As is my broke ass.) According to a report by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, Washington’s poorest residents pay up to 17.3% of their income into state coffers while Washington’s richest pay just 2.9%. We live in a very high-tax state if you’re poor and a very low-tax state if you’re rich.
But there are ways to raise revenue that don’t soak the poor. Last session legislators attempted to create a modest tax on capital gains – i.e. the money earned from sales of stocks or property. Capital gains are almost ubiquitous amongst the richest members of Washington State, and rare among low-income and middle-class Washingtonians. The bill that failed to pass last session exempted the first $10,000 in capital gains, resulting in a tax on only the richest 3%.
A capital gains tax would be one of many possible ways to get Washington out of debt. But ideas like this are non-starters while Olympia is shackled by 2/3rds requirements.
Regardless of how we do it, until Washington gets real about paying for the things we value, we’ll continue to underfund schools, roads, transit and life-saving services. It’s time for the Evergreen State to put its money where its mouth is.
This blog post was written by Devin Glaser, longtime friend and volunteer of the Bus.