Apples and oranges

Kansas City’s council has voted to require an increase in the minimum wage paid to hourly employees working within its city limits and some members of the legislature, believing the sky will fall as a result, are threatening to punish the city.  Because Kansas City wants to give some people a bigger bite of the apple, the legislature wants to take away an orange. .

The statewide minimum wage is $7.65 an hour.  The Kansas City Council wants to increase it by eighty-five cents an hour this month with annual increases until the wage is thirteen-dollars an hour in 2020.  Critics contend the increases will cause businesses to provide fewer minimum-wage jobs.  Does that mean the people with corner offices will become the ones to re-stock the grocery shelves at night?  Or flip the burgers?  Somebody is still going to have to do that work.

Because Kansas City has mandated that its lowest-paid citizens get raises, some lawmakers want to end the earnings tax the city collects from all of the people who work in Kansas City, even those lowest-paid folks.  Maybe that’s the real problem.  Giving people raises means they’ll pay more taxes on their earnings and we know that tax increases are bad, bad, bad.  Even if the tax increase is less than eight-tenths of a cent an hour.

Let this long-time observer of legislative apples and oranges suggest an alternative to those legislators who think putting more money into people’s pockets is under this circumstance such a dreadful thing that it merits draconian retribution.  Normally the idea that people should have more money in their pockets (because they know how to spend it better than government does) is a concept the legislative majority likes to trumpet when it wants to cut taxes.  But here it’s some kind of municipal capital offense if those taxpayers earn that money.

So, in the spirit of being helpful, we offer an alternative that will improve the image of our lawmakers, particularly those who propose taking a guillotine to Kansas City’s municipal budget. And we can pretty much guarantee that this idea will produce bigger, more positive, headlines than the proposed orange penalty.

Instead of trying to punish Kansas City for having gone through a lengthy process to determine what the city council thinks is a fair phased-in step to take for the lowest-paid workers, the legislature should adopt a position of humility and comradeship.  It would be better for these lawmakers to say, “While we don’t believe lowest-paid workers in Kansas City deserve raises, we support them.  To show that we are in close sympathy with those workers who get the present statewide minimum wage, we are introducing legislation that calls for members of the General Assembly to receive the minimum wage, too.   In doing so, we will lead by example and in that way we will convince Kansas City to repeal its ordinance.”  It’s better to build a bridge than to build a bunker. Or in this case, it’s better to join together with workers at the apple barrel than to yank away a municipal orange that contains a lot of healthy fiscal vitamin C.

Just for grins, let’s calculate how much our lawmakers identified with those making $7.65 an hour.

Floor debate is often 4-6 p.m. on Mondays, 10 a.m. to, say, 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and let’s say nine to noon on Thursday, which is roughly the schedule for a good part of a legislative session.  That’s twenty-one hours.  Some committees meet at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.  Some meet for a couple of hours in the early afternoon. Let’s be charitable (501(c)4 so we don’t have to report who provides the money) and calculate the average legislator works twenty-five hours a week.   That’s $191.25 for a short work week.   The legislature is in session for three weeks in January, four in February, March, and April, and three more in May, generally.  That’s eighteen weeks.  That puts their earnings at $3,443.50 for the session.

Oops.  We forgot the veto session in September.  Two more days.  Let’s say these folks work eight hours each day.  That’s another $122.40.

Of course, they’re doing constituent things while they’re at home so they’re never really completely off-duty.   So let’s just multiply their weekly wages by fifty (including the September veto session) and that’s an annual salary of $9562.50.  We multiplied by fifty because they’d probably want two weeks off for a vacation or something and we know minimum wage people don’t get paid when they’re not working.

Zowee!!! At minimum wage our 197 House and Senate members would earn $1,883,812.50, total, for a calendar year.  The basic payroll for the members of the legislature is about $7.1 million a year under the present annual salary of $35,915.  That doesn’t count the $105 per diem that each member gets to pay for motel rooms, apartment rents, meals that lobbyists don’t buy for them, drinks at the local bar (ditto), and so forth.  And that doesn’t calculate the cost of state health insurance coverage they get.  By going to a minimum wage, our smaller government legislators could save about $5.2 million taxpayer dollars every year.  That’s another $5.2 million in business taxes that could be cut for all those companies flocking to Missouri and creating all those new jobs we keep hearing are being created because of an improved business climate.

The news just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?

Of course, most people earning $7.65 an hour don’t have health insurance provided for them.  Maybe the altruistic lawmakers would want to save the state millions of dollars more by not taking part in the state health insurance program, showing even greater support for minimum wage earners in Kansas City, and elsewhere, who don’t need to earn more while at the same time increasing opportunities for more tax breaks for those job-producing businesses.   Plus, most of our legislators moonlight with second jobs when they’re not in Jefferson City and they can use the money from those second jobs to buy health insurance, just like minimum wage workers do—don’t they?

See, folks, crippling our largest city financially because it has done something for low-paid workers is the wrong way to go.  It’s better to set a positive example by showing that those workers don’t need a higher hourly wage because legislators can get by on the same thing the minimum wage workers get now.

In a time when so many people have a negative impression of government, this would say the Missouri legislature truly is government OF the people.  The best way to change Kansas City’s mind is to show through personal leadership that a minimum wage increase is not needed.

It is only fair that we note that the legislature time and time again has rejected recommendations by a state commission that legislative salaries, already more than double the amount a minimum-wage worker could earn for fifty 40-hour weeks, be increased.  Imagine how much prouder their constituents  would feel if the lawmakers said, “We want nothing more than the hourly wage paid to Gladys who checks things out at our supermarket cash register or Phil, who works behind the counter at our convenience store, or the teenager who takes our money at the fast food place pay window.”

And what would make perfect sense would be a law that says any increase in the minimum wage paid to our legislators beyond increases provided by law would trigger the elimination of the state income, or earnings, tax.

Makes perfect sense.

Of course it does.

No thanks needed.  This proposal is just part of being a good, helpful, citizen who has had the good fortune for many years to hear our lawmakers praise themselves as citizen-legislators.


Let me know what you think......