News and notes from around town:
• The living wage seems to be an issue that is gaining steam in the final days of the campaign for the Lawrence City Commission. Candidate Bob Schumm recently sent out a mass mailing questioning whether the living wage requirement — which requires companies that receive a tax abatement to pay a certain wage — is secure in the future. Specifically, its headline was “DANGER! Living wage under attack.” The postcard made mention that one candidate said he wanted to revisit the issue of the living wage. The postcard doesn’t mention the candidate by name, but it doesn’t take a mastermind to figure out whom Schumm was referring to. Early in the campaign, Hugh Carter had said in a Journal-World article — written by me — that he wanted to revisit the living wage issue. The comment drew some attention because I asked that same question of the other candidates, and no one else seemed to have much interest in revisiting the issue that is now several years old.
Here’s what the March 5 article said regarding the living wage issue and Carter:
Carter said he wants to at least discuss the possibility of removing the “living wage” that currently is attached to the city’s tax abatement policy.
“I think we absolutely have to revisit it,” Carter said. “I’m not saying it has to change, but I want to get comfortable that the living wage idea is still one that makes sense.”
Since the article came out, Carter has said he’s not sure that I entirely captured what he was trying to say. In conversations with him, Carter has indicated that “removing” the living wage requirement isn’t really something he would consider, but changing it is something he would consider.
Campaigning can be about nuance, and thus covering campaigns can be about picking up on nuances. So, if I failed to do so in that interview, I apologize.
Carter has explained his position at several forums and we gave him the opportunity to address it as part of his online chat. So, I hadn’t thought much more about it. But then the postcard came out, and Carter sent out a message to his supporters further clarifying and bringing up the original article.
So, I’ve gone through my notes from the original article and decided to share them with you. But first, a word about how I worked in this situation. I interviewed Hugh on the phone, and as I sometimes do when I know that an interview is going to be long, I recorded the conversation. I use the recording as a backup to my handwritten notes. If I’m unsure about something I heard, I make a question mark by it and go back and refer to the recording. I don’t use the recording otherwise, mainly because it just takes so long to transcribe.
What follows is a transcription from the recording. The quote from the recording differs slightly from the quote that I used and took from handwritten notes. But I don’t think in a material way. You can judge for yourself, and also see what was said before and after the comments. (You’ll also get to see the type of beautiful prose I use in asking questions.)
Lawhorn : Do you think the current structure we have for tax abatements works OK? I mean, I guess the big thing is that it has been several years ago they added the living wage requirement, you know that you can’t qualify for one of these unless you pay a living wage to all the positions. Does that sound OK to you still, or what do you think?
Carter: Well, I think we absolutely have to revisit it. I’m not necessarily saying that has to change. I just want to get comfortable that if in fact with that that this living wage is still is one a wage that makes sense. And again, you are looking at a case by case basis. So I would hate to put certain restrictions on and just make them a blanket restriction that doesn’t give us the flexibility to look at something that may actually make sense.
Lawhorn: So you would like to at least look at it. Like you said, doesn’t mean you will change it, you think it ought to be a topic for discussion?
Carter: Absolutely. I think based on the time that was put in there it was a different time, so let’s revisit it and see if it still makes sense and go from there.
There you go. I hope that adds some clarity.
League of Voters questionnaire ( .PDF )
• As promised, to the side of this article are the results of the questionnaire that was conducted by the Lawrence-Douglas County League of Women Voters, which follows City Hall business as closely as any group. Also you can find the results of a questionnaire by the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods. The election is April 5.