Taxpayers expect their elected officials to be efficient when it comes to how their money is spent. They don’t expect government to become surrogate parents to local businesses.
Yet that’s the role the Moscow City Council is poised to assume if it continues with plans to implement, a “living wage” ordinance for all its employees and those companies that choose to do business with the city.
Let’s be clear. We’re not talking about minimum wage. That hourly rate is set by the federal government, and states have the option of increasing it. The minimum wage is meant to serve as a floor for wages, a line that employers can’t drop beneath lest they be labeled as exploiting their workers.
What the city is considering is a more ambitious number. It’s a wage that, according to statistics provided by someone, somewhere, would support an individual and his/her dependents.
No one within the City Council’s Administrative Committee, which is considering the proposal, has yet to attach an actual dollar amount that would define a living wage. But the ordinance under consideration does extend the city’s living wage beyond the realm of its own employees.
Companies that contract with the city would have to meet the same requirement.
Those in city government have a difficult task when it comes to employment.
They have to balance the need to pay workers a competitive wage with the recognition they’re using someone else’s money. It’s a high-wire act under the best of circumstance.
The living wage ordinance gives that wire a rigorous shake and sends taxpayers tumbling.
If those who contract with the city have to meet living wage requirements, the companies are not going to smile and eat the extra expenses long term. Those costs will be added to the next bid, and taxpayers will foot the bill.
The proposal also puts the city into a role that’s best played without the government. The wages that an individual earns are negotiated between that person and the prospective employer. If the person doesn’t like the dollars that are on the table, they go somewhere else. If an employer doesn’t like the pool of candidates — or lack thereof — the employer raises the wages to attract better people.
Overall, this system has worked well without the Moscow City Council joining the fray.
It’s safe to assume it will continue to work once the council drops the living wage proposal.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
"Market determines living wage, not city"
One of the more sensible editorials lately appeared in last Saturday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News: