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Why Is This City’s Democratic Mayor Threatening To Veto A $10.10 Minimum Wage?

CREDIT: AP
CREDIT: AP

The Democratic majority on Louisville, KY’s city council plans to vote for a $10.10 minimum wage on Thursday, but the city’s Democratic mayor has promised to veto the measure because he feels it is aggressive. Mayor Greg Fischer has said he would sign an increase from the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour to $8.50 or $8.75, but the future of the measure is cloudy.

Fischer, who has described himself as “a business guy that just happens to be mayor,” had previously indicated that he might accept a $10 minimum wage if it were phased in very gradually. But Fischer said on Monday that he worries that the council’s bill would cost the city jobs, a claim that is not supported by the most precise studies of how businesses and economies respond to minimum wage laws. Reports vary on whether or not council Democrats are willing to compromise with Fischer and lower their sights from $10.10.

A council committee advanced the $10.10 ordinance Monday on a party-line vote, and Democrats control 17 out of 26 seats on the full council. While it takes just 14 votes to pass a bill, reversing Fischer’s veto would require 18. The body’s top Republican told the Courier-Journal on Wednesday that none of his members will support any minimum wage hike, let alone the $10.10 proposal that has triggered intra-Democratic strife.

“We have a fundamental issue with local government doing something we do not believe we have the right to do,” Republican caucus director Steve Haag told the newspaper. Haag’s comments echo remarks various national Republicans have made opposing the very concept of a minimum wage law. Influential members of that party don’t believe that the government should set a wage floor at all.

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In a certain sense, that perspective is already winning through sheer attrition. For evidence of that slow and quiet victory, look no further than the very specific $10.10 figure itself. After adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage today is worth far less than it was in the late 1960s. Even though the minimum wage was less than $2 an hour at that time, it went 20 percent further than today’s $7.25 minimum does. A $10.10 minimum wage seems like a big hike, but in terms of buying power for workers it would only serve to get people back to where they were in 1968.

Democratic politicians have latched onto $10.10 in recent years as a symbolic illustration of how working people have been left behind in recent decades. About a year after the Congressional Progressive Caucus proposed a $10.10 minimum wage, President Obama raised his own target from $9 to $10.10. Activists and workers on the front lines of the movement for a wage hike have been far more aggressive, demanding $15 an hour — an audacious-sounding policy that has already been passed in Seattle, WA and (in more limited form) in Los Angeles, CA.

In those two cities, long organizing efforts on the ground eventually created concerted pressure for politicians and business leaders to strike a compromise. It remains to be seen whether or not Louisville’s leaders will seek common ground, but the tactics employed by wage hike supporters stand in contrast with the higher ambitions of Seattle’s rabble-rousers. “You shouldn’t be asking for fifty cents, you should be asking for five bucks. That gets people’s attention,” Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist who was part of the Seattle negotiations, told ThinkProgress in June.

“We’re generally a little bit ahead of the curve. But I will tell you that while other places may not be as progressive as we are, when we enact this law and our state does not slide into the ocean, that will make it easier for people to be like ‘well, fuck, why shouldn’t we do that?’”

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, even that higher amount the council prefers would be too little to support a family in Louisville. To support a family of two adults and a child on one income in the Kentucky city, a person would need to earn $16.27 an hour while working full-time.