After lengthy discussion Thursday of the law’s finer points, the Kansas City Council voted 12-1 in favor of an ordinance to gradually increase the city’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2020.
With the move, Kansas City joins a growing number of cities that have significantly boosted pay for low-income workers. San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles have all increased their pay floor to $15 per hour.
Thursday’s vote isn’t likely to be the final word on the issue in Kansas City. Opponents of the measure, including business interests in the city, are likely to mount legal challenges against the wage increase, which puts Kansas City above the state-mandated minimum wage of $7.65 per hour.
“That’s the reality,” said Mayor Sly James, who voted in favor of the increase. “Some people will be benefited on both sides, and some people will be disadvantaged on both sides.
“We’re doing the right thing. But, we need to understand that the right thing has a consequence.”
Under the law, Kansas City’s minimum wage would increase to $8.50 per hour on Aug. 24 and $9.82 per hour in January 2017. From there, it would increase about one dollar annually until 2020.
“We’re long way from perfect, but what we have is good, and is worth pushing forward,” Councilman Scott Wagner said. “I’m not as hopeful as some may be, but I don’t mind standing up and saying that we are for this today.”
The lone dissenting vote came from Councilman Ed Ford, who said the measure was “too much too soon.” Ford said the move will cost the city jobs and cause economic disadvantages.
He also questioned the legal right of the city council to its own minimum wage.
“I think we’re giving false hope here and I think it’s clear that we don’t have the legal authority to raise the minimum wage,” Ford said. “We’ll be the first and the only city in Missouri to have enacted a minimum wage statute. So we will bear the brunt of all of the lawsuits and legal shenanigans.”
Last week, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that would have barred cities from setting a minimum wage higher the state minimum wage, saying that decision should be left to local voters.
Councilwoman Cindy Circo defended the wage hike, saying that many businesses in Kansas City have already paid more than the state minimum wage, which showed their intentions to back a higher local wage.
In addition, Councilman Jim Glover said that the change is not an ideology but simply an adjustment to the current pricing condition, helping Kansas City “keep up with the time.”
Glover said ensuring Kansas City workers earn a living wage is essential to the area’s economy and government functioning as they should.
“We need to have people work at every level of this economy and make fair wages,” Glover said. “Without that, we imperil our democratic system of government, and we imperil the good functioning of our economy.”
St. Louis is also grappling with the possibility of raising its minimum wage. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is pushing to raise his city’s minimum wage. But this week, St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed objected to the bill seeking to institute a citywide minimum wage of $11 per hour.