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Kansas City Council Contemplates Living Wage Ordinance

With the August ballot deadline a week away, a group of faith-based and social justice organizations presented more than enough petition signatures to send a “living wage” initiative to Kansas City, Missouri voters.

That would allow it to pass before a Missouri bill forbidding cities from raising the minimum wage could take effect, assuming Gov. Nixon signs the bill into law.

The initiative would raise Kansas City's minimum wage to $10 an hour this year, and to $15 by 2020. 

Mayor Sly James says the timing leaves the council with a lot of questions to answer in one week.

James said the city has done no independent investigation of whether living wage laws have adverse effects on businesses. 

He said there are also questions about its interaction with Missouri’s stringent public assistance laws. For example, he said, raising the local minimum might cause the intended beneficiaries lose their eligibility for food stamps, Medicaid or other types of assistance..

At Thursday’s hearing, faith-based organizations, labor unions and fast food workers spoke in favor of the living wage ordinance. Hotel and restaurant interests and the Libertarian-leaning Show-Me Institute contended it would cost jobs and drive businesses out of Kansas City.

UMKC economics professor Peter Eaton testified that more than half of Missouri workers earn less than $15 an hour, and that an actual living wage for a single parent with one child here would be about $18 an hour. 

The current Missouri minimum wage is $7.65.

Council discussions continue next Thursday at noon.

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