Wisconsin Jobs Now Lies to Kill Living Wage Bill

March 26, 2014

by James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

During the debate in the state legislature on a bill to limit local “living wage” ordinances, union front organization Wisconsin Jobs Now’s Executive Director Jennifer Epps-Addison mischaracterized the intent and effect of the proposed law. The bill would have prevented local “living wage” ordinances from affecting contract work that is funded by state money or federal money passed through the state.

The bill was in response to the Milwaukee County Board deciding to pass a “living wage ordinance” raising the minimum wage for contractors doing business with the county to $11.33 per hour. Raising the minimum wage to that level is predicted to have a devastating effect on the long-term viability of the county’s Family Care program that is funded in part by the state.

In an email, Epps-Addison claimed, “Their latest attempt, SB 626, would make local living wage laws (like the [sic] passed 15 years ago in Madison) illegal.” It was a claim Wisconsin Jobs Now repeated while protesting at a public hearing in Madison on the bill.

However, the bill would not make the Living Wage law in Madison illegal. This bill would only prevent local living wage ordinances from using state taxpayer dollars or federal money passed through state government to pay for these artificially high wages. Local governments would still have the ability to pass a requirement that they pay a so called living wage, they would just need to figure out how to pay for that living wage proposal using local funds, not state taxpayer dollars.

It is a pretty simple idea really. If a local government thinks a living wage is such a great idea, then that local government needs to convince its property taxpayers that it is a wise use of their hard-earned money.

There is nothing in the bill that would prevent the City of Madison or Milwaukee and Dane Counties from continuing to require a higher minimum wage paid by contractors for those programs that are wholly funded locally. Madison currently requires contractors to pay a minimum $12.45 per hour. Dane County currently requires $11.33 per hour, as will Milwaukee County.

The MacIver News Service reports the new Milwaukee County minimum wage ordinance will cost taxpayers more than $1 million this year and $7.3 million by 2019.

The Capital Times reported that according to Anne Zellhoefer, an assistant city attorney for Madison, the bill would have no effect on those city employees currently earning the “living wage.” It would only impact, “the few city contracts that are paid for with federal and state money.”

Nor would the bill prevent Dane and Milwaukee County’s living wage ordinances from taking effect. The proposed state law would affect 65 of the 152 companies or nonprofits under contract with Dane County, according to County Executive Joe Parisi.

In Milwaukee County, the biggest impact would be on the Family Care program. However, without the change in state law, the Family Care program with its current amount of state subsidy is fiscally unsustainable in the long term if it is subject to the county’s “living wage” ordinance. However, that does not make the “living wage” ordinance null and void.

When contacted to explain their position, Wisconsin Jobs Now informed me that Jennifer Epps-Addison was not available for an interview. They offered a written statement, but when pressed for it Lisa Bahr of Wisconsin Jobs Now responded that after the state senate’s decision not to take up the bill, “…other things have become higher priorities for us so I apologize for not being able to get you something.”