It has divided the community and has helped elect three city commissioners. Tuesday, the so-called living-wage issue will once again be before the Lawrence City Commission.
"I think there are thousands of people who expect us to do this," Commissioner Boog Highberger said. "And I intend to keep my promise."
Highberger, along with Commissioners Mike Rundle and David Schauner, signed promise cards during the 2003 campaign pledging their support for a living wage. Highberger said he thought he had the votes to push the living wage through.
"My impression is that everyone supports the concept," he said. "It's just ... working out the details."
The commissioners will discuss an ordinance proposed by the Kaw Valley Living Wage Alliance. It would require companies receiving tax breaks from the city to pay their workers at least 130 percent of the federal poverty level for a worker with two dependents, or $9.53 an hour.
"If taxpayer money is being used for job creation," said David Smith, a member of the alliance steering committee, "it should encourage the creation of good jobs."
The issue has divided the community in the past. But Lawrence Chamber of Commerce Chairman Larry McElwain said it would be less difficult this time around.
"We feel it's time to put that behind us and work for consensus and an agreement in this community," he said.
The chamber supports a living wage for tax-abated companies, McElwain said, but not in an ordinance. The chamber's membership wants the requirement to be written into the city's tax-abatement policy.
|The Lawrence City Commission will meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall for discussion of the proposed living-wage ordinance.|
"If it's a city issue, why do we need to have an ordinance when we've got the vehicle here?" McElwain said.
Smith said the alliance disagreed. He said cities across the nation with viable living-wage policies typically codified them in ordinances, which reduce flexibility in interpretation.
"For successful implementation and enforcement, living-wage ordinances work much better," Smith said.
Regardless of the form it takes, a living-wage proposal will face some opposition. In a letter to the commissioners -- signed by 13 members of the Manufacturer's Network of Douglas County -- industrialists made it known they want no part of a living-wage requirement. The letter said a living wage would force its member companies, including several currently receiving tax abatements, to raise prices, cut workers, and even consider leaving Lawrence.
But Highberger said local industry had no reason to worry.
"I intend to do this in a way that does not hurt our ability to attract new business investment," he said.
The proposed ordinance would not be retroactive, meaning the 15 companies currently receiving tax abatements would not be subject to the living-wage requirement.
Commissioners Sue Hack and David Dunfield were not available for comment Friday evening.
The commissioners will not be voting Tuesday on the proposed ordinance. The meeting is intended as a forum for discussion.
"Pursuant to (Highberger's) direction, we've placed the ordinance on the agenda for public discussion and direction from the commission," said Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss.
Corliss said the ordinance or another version of it could be on a future commission agenda. Highberger said he would push for a vote at the Aug. 26 commission meeting.
|According to the 2002 Tax Abatement Report, no business that has received a tax abatement from the city of Lawrence pays an average salary less than a living wage for jobs created as a result of the abatement.
*Note: The average salary reported is the average for all full-time jobs at the Lawrence facility, not just the average of the jobs created as a result of the abatement.
Source: Administrative Services, city of Lawrence