We’re not surprised that the Manhattan Living Wage Coalition continues to insist that the City Commission set a $12-an-hour wage minimum for companies that seek economic development funds from the city.
Geri Simon, speaking on behalf of the coalition, contended at the commission meeting Tuesday that jobs that pay less than that amount don’t contribute to the program’s stated goal of creating quality jobs. Her assertion that creating jobs that pay less than $12 an hour is “a waste of tax dollars” is debatable, but it’s not certain. Though an income of less than $12 an hour (not quite $25,000 a year) won’t support a family of four — a figure approaching that isn’t bad money for young single people or young couples, especially if both spouses work.
It’s not hard to support the Living Wage Coalition’s effort to help workers earn enough to support themselves and their families. Nor is it hard to understand that many workers who do not earn enough money to support their families are more likely to be dependent on support services, many of which are themselves funded through taxes.
Nevertheless, we continue to oppose the coalition’s demand that a certain wage minimum be a requirement for the distribution of tax revenue for economic development. Wage levels are and should be market driven, depending on factors such as demand and applicants’ preparedness through experience, education and training.
Moreover, in our view, the coalition’s decision to withhold support for the countywide sales tax renewal because the City Commission won’t guarantee a $12 minimum is misguided. Undermining the city’s economic development efforts will only make it harder for the individuals the coalition supports to find work at all, much less jobs that pay $12 an hour or more.
The ballot question is for renewal of a countywide half-cent sales tax that has existed for 10 years. Riley County has said it would commit its share of the revenue to roads and other infrastructure improvements. The city’s revenue would go toward economic development, debt relief and infrastructure.
It’s worth noting, as Mayor Loren Pepperd did, that the city has moved closer to the coalition’s position. The city’s latest economic development application doesn’t prohibit companies seeking city assistance from offering jobs that pay less than $12 an hour, but it does stipulate that companies won’t get credit for jobs paying less than that amount in meeting their job creating requirements.
Although Mrs. Simon acknowledged that the concession was significant, she made clear that it wasn’t enough.
We don’t know how many job opportunities will be created if the countywide sales tax question is approved, but we’re confident they’ll exceed the number created if it fails.