- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Kansas City officials are facing a self-imposed July 16 deadline to make a decision on whether to raise the local minimum wage, but after weeks of roundtable discussions between business interests and advocates for $15 an hour, neither side has been willing to budge.

“The two sides just talk past each other,” Mayor Sly James told his City Council colleagues. “Although I think it’s been beneficial to have the two sides talking, it hasn’t produced any agreement of anything.”

The council’s efforts have been in response to a petition initiative that seeks a public vote to increase the city’s minimum wage to $10 an hour by Sept. 1 and to $15 an hour by 2020, The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/1JIZf7o ) reported.

James and the City Council delayed a decision on the issue in May so they could gather more information and look for a compromise. Restaurant, hotel and other business groups have adamantly opposed boosting the rate.

“The marketplace” - not the city - “should dictate minimum wage,” said Bud Nicol, executive director of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Kansas City.

While James and some council members said last week they still hope to find a “sweet spot” for an increase, many doubted it would be $15 or $13 an hour, even phased in gradually by 2020.

Business groups have vowed to sue if any increase is approved, arguing the state prohibits cities from adopting their own minimum wage. Conversely, petitioners say they will still push for a public vote in the November election if they don’t get their $15-an-hour result.

A similar effort in St. Louis to reach $15 an hour by 2020 came to a halt in June, with one alderman canceling any further hearings because he said it was wrong to rush such a controversial measure.

Kansas City might have been able to take similar action if not for the petition drive. James said he feels obligated to get an increase and noted that he thinks $7.65 an hour is too low.

Advocates for a hike want a minimum wage that would allow low-skilled but diligent workers to make enough to support themselves and their families. They cite examples of two-parent couples working full time and still not being able to support three kids, facing eviction and homelessness.

“These workers aren’t asking to be rich. Fifteen dollars an hour by 2020 does not make it so you are rich. It means you get closer to the living wage,” said Gina Chiala, a representative of Stand Up KC, which has organized numerous rallies on behalf of low-wage workers.

But if Kansas City mandates a new minimum wage, it will drive away jobs and businesses, Nicol said.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com


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