It is the city's rule.
Companies that receive a public tax break - a tax abatement - must pay their employees a "living wage" of at least $10.73 per hour, plus health benefits.
But when it comes to how the city pays its own employees or the employees of city contractors, the living wage requirement doesn't apply. City Commissioner Boog Highberger said he wants to change that for at least one group of city contractors: bus drivers.
Highberger is objecting to a clause in a proposed set of regulations that would govern the new operating contract for the city's public transportation system. Under the current proposal, contractors who want to bid on running the T in 2009 and beyond would be allowed to pay bus drivers as little as $9.75 an hour - or nearly a $1 less than the living wage.
"It is a fairly stressful job, and it is something we ask our companies who get tax abatements to do," Highberger said of the living wage requirement.
There was some support on the commission for adding language to the next contract that would require drivers be paid a living wage.
"It is difficult to provide that of others when we don't demand it of our service providers," Mayor Sue Hack said.
But the issue may not be so simple. That's because for the first time, the city is working directly with Kansas University to find a contractor to run both the city and KU bus systems. If the city required a living wage to be paid for city bus drivers, it likely would mean that a living wage would have to be paid to university bus drivers as well.
Danny Kaiser, assistant director of parking and transit for KU, said that definitely was a goal for the university, but he was not sure it was financially feasible to be accomplished immediately.
Commissioners directed staff members to have more in-depth discussions with KU about the living wage issue and seek a compromise that would allow the provision to be included in the next contract.
The living wage issue was just one part of the public transit discussion at Tuesday evening's City Commission meeting. Ultimately, commissioners unanimously agreed to start the process to find a contractor.
Commissioners also followed a staff recommendation that future bidders should be required to provide three pricing options to the city: one that would keep service levels at the status quo, another that would reduce service levels by 30 percent and a third option that would reduce service levels by 50 percent.
Commissioners said tight budget times require them to look at plans that would involve cutbacks in the T service.
Commissioners, however, only opened the door to future T cutbacks. They did not make any decisions on Tuesday. Instead, commissioners will wait to receive the bids and likely will make a decision by mid-2008.