- Associated Press - Saturday, February 13, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Proposed legislation to block Alabama cities from establishing local minimum wages could derail plans for an hourly minimum of $10.10 in the state’s largest city and follows a pattern of state legislatures considering measures to override the efforts of local governments.

The Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance to establish a local hourly minimum of $8.25 July 1 and raise it to $10.10 by July 2017. Alabama has no state minimum wage and uses the federal minimum of $7.25. State Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook filed a bill during a special session last fall to block local governments from passing wage ordinances.

Birmingham city leaders earlier this week voted to expedite the effective date of the planned increase to March 1, and Faulkner introduced a bill that would mandate uniform minimum wages and void local wage ordinances.

The proposed legislation moved out of the House State Government Committee Thursday, and the House is expected to vote on the proposal Tuesday.

Although advocates say raising the minimum wage is meant to help low-income workers escape poverty, proponents of bills like the one being considered by Alabama lawmakers say higher wages mean higher costs for employers and consumers, reduced job opportunities for low-wage workers and stalled economic development.

In many cases, moves to stifle local control over wage regulations are a direct response to local policies, said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for raising the minimum wage.

Missouri lawmakers last year voted to ban municipalities from implementing wages higher than the state minimum, as St. Louis and Kansas City sought to do. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the measure, but the Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto during a special session. Courts struck down an ordinance to raise the minimum wage in St. Louis and blocked a ballot measure on the issue in Kansas City after a petition from a citizens’ group. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, lawmakers in several states including Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and New Jersey have recently considered bills to limit local control over wages.

“If a state sees that it’s a detriment to its economy, they’re going to pull rank and take the power they need to ensure they have uniformity among their subdivisions,” said American City County Exchange Director Jon Russell. The organization is a program of the Virginia-based American Legislative Exchange Council, which opposes minimum wage hikes and supplies lawmakers with model policies to repeal local wage mandates and block municipalities from passing local measures on the issue.

Campaigns to raise local minimum wages have become more common because the federal minimum hasn’t changed since 2009, Gebreselassie said.

“Clearly the cost of living varies tremendously around the state, so what’s good for one part of the state might be wholly inadequate for another part of the state,” she said.

Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst at Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, which advocates for low-income Alabamians, said cities are trying to act because the legislature will not. “Although they pay lip service to ideas like federalism and local control the reality is they are undermining local democracy,” he said.

American Legislative Exchange Council officials said in a report that workers are paid minimum wage when they lack the productivity to command higher compensation, and the pay is meant to serve as a stepping stone. Tuscaloosa City Councilwoman Sonya McKinstry reiterated that point when a citizens’ group pushing local leaders to pass an ordinance similar to Birmingham’s addressed the mayor and council on Tuesday.

“When I made minimum wage, my life was factored according to what I made. And you know as I worked harder and got better jobs, my life changed,” she said. Advocates say cost-of-living increases have stunted the economic mobility of low-wage workers, but Tuscaloosa city leaders said a local policy could carry unintended consequences for low-income workers and economic development.


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