Minimum wage bill heavy-handed intrusion
Published 11:52 pm Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Government of the people, by the people and for the people appears to be an alien concept to nearly four dozen Alabama lawmakers who signed on as sponsors of House Bill 27, put forward by Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, in the second special session.
The measure would forbid counties or cities from enacting a minimum wage above the federal threshold, set at $7.25 an hour.
It’s another example of heavy-handed intrusion by the Republican-led Legislature into local government issues and utterly inconsistent with the GOP’s ceaseless claims to oppose such overreach.
The bill was prompted by Birmingham City Council’s approval last month of an ordinance that would raise the minimum wage in the city to $8.50 an hour next July, and $10.10 in July 2017.
The modest increase should help low-paid service workers climb out of poverty and, perhaps, become less dependent on government benefits such as food stamps. That’s a possibility one might think Republican lawmakers who decry those benefits as handouts would applaud, but no.
A number of states and cities around the nation have made decisions to raise the minimum wage over the past several years, some as high as $15 an hour, triggering paranoia among conservatives that a widespread movement is in the works, and efforts like Faulkner’s to shut it down.
No one is saying that Alabama companies, especially small businesses, should be forced to pay employees $15 an hour, as the cost of living here is much lower than in places like Seattle that have approved hefty wage hikes.
Studies show, however, that reasonable minimum wage increases don’t cause economic Armageddon and can spur economic growth as workers with bigger paychecks buy more goods and services. Research also shows “higher wages sharply reduce employee turnover which can reduce employment and training costs,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Instead of taking away the rights of the governments closest to the people, Alabama lawmakers should study proposals to establish a state minimum wage slightly higher than the federal mandate and perhaps tied to inflation.
Should Faulkner’s bill make it through the House, the Senate should shoot it down quickly as an unwarranted pre-emption of local control, not to mention a distraction from the urgent business of finding revenue to fill the deep hole in the General Fund budget. If the law is passed by both bodies, Gov. Robert Bentley should veto it as nothing but a kick in the gut to local governments and Alabama’s working poor, who have little power but do the thankless jobs that grease the wheels of the state’s economy.