Missouri minimum wage fight continues with Proposition B vote

Missouri voters will decide Tuesday on Proposition B, which would increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2023. It’s the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle over hourly minimum pay in the state.

In recent years, Kansas City and St. Louis have passed laws to increase their municipal wage floors. Kansas City planned to have a $15 minimum by 2022, and St. Louis approved an increase to $11 by 2018. But both were negated by a state law that took effect in 2017, preventing municipalities from raising their minimum wages above the state’s wage floor

After that, top elected officials from the state’s major population centers — including St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, Kansas City Mayor Sly James and Columbia Mayor Brian Treece — spoke out in support of an effort to put a $12 minimum wage on a statewide ballot.

Centralia Mayor Tim Grenke disagrees with the leaders of Missouri’s biggest cities. The mayor of the town of about 4,000 people, located 25 miles northeast of Columbia, does not support Proposition B and believes its passage would hurt consumers.

“When you start mandating that a business, a small ma-and-pop shop, for instance, (has) to pay $12 an hour, $15 an hour, whatever it is, that business will have to generate that revenue from somewhere, and generally that’s in increased cost of their goods or services,” Grenke said.

Grenke said that his constituents are opposed to the minimum wage increase, based on feedback he has heard from residents during open office hours he holds at various locations throughout Centralia.

Business views

To date, the owners of about 700 businesses across the state have signed on to support Proposition B, according to a list published by Raise Up Missouri, the committee backing the wage increase.

The group published a statement for businesses to sign that stated that raising the minimum wage is “good for business, customers and our local economy.”

Other business groups, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Associated Industries of Missouri, have voiced opposition to the measure.

“Our members are deeply concerned about this proposal,” Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement. “Passing such a sweeping minimum wage hike would make Missouri vastly uncompetitive and drive business and jobs away from Missouri.”

Steve Albert, owner of Albert’s Shoe Repair in Centralia, said he has no opinion on Proposition B.

“It won’t (affect us) because I pay over what they right now are presenting as the minimum wage,” Albert said.

Albert said he has three full-time employees who started at $15 an hour.

Researchers weigh in

Some economists in the state share Grenke’s view.

Joseph Haslag, an economics professor at the University of Missouri, said he does not believe that the economic effects of a $12 minimum wage will be positive.

“You hear stories, anecdotes, from people who own, especially, fast food restaurants that … they’re going to choose to automate rather than to hire labor,” Haslag said.

In September, the Show-Me Institute, a think tank that promotes free markets, published an essay by William E. Even and David A. Macpherson on the state’s proposed $12 minimum wage.

The authors estimated that 11,000 jobs would be lost by 2023 under a $12 minimum and that “younger and less educated workers (would) bear a disproportionate share of the impact.”

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