Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

April 18, 2014

Ban on wage hikes by municipalities a mark of hypocrisy

TAHLEQUAH — The words “God” and “governor” may share the same first two letters, but the two are hardly interchangeable.

But let’s assume Gov. Mary Fallin really isn’t deluded enough to place her powers on the level of a deity. What rationale would a woman who has championed smaller government and local control use to explain her hypocrisy in banning individual Oklahoma cities from raising minimum wages in their jurisdictions?

Fallin can’t bear all the blame for this dictatorial behavior. Rep. Randy Grau, who sponsored the bill in the House, claims that “an artificial raise in the minimum wage could derail local economies in a matter of months.” Dan Newberry, the Senate co-author, offered the usual reasoning behind wage hike opposition: It will allow Oklahoma to remain economically competitive and see continued job growth. He added: “It is imperative that these decisions be made at the state level and follow the compliance with the federal wage requirements.”

But how “compliant” would Mr. Newberry would be if President Obama managed to ram through his federal minimum wage hike? We suspect Newberry’s on-the-surface support of “federal wage requirements” would sink like a rock with a brick tied to it.

Next to abortion and gay marriage, the minimum wage is one of the most divisive topics on the current agenda. Many Americans are  staunch in their support of, or opposition to, raising that rate, and an endless stream of studies, polls, statistics and testimony before blue ribbon panels is not going to change their minds. A practical person can see both sides of the issue, and there is no easy answer.

On the one hand, only the most out-of-touch elitist in a gated community would think a person can support himself, much less a family, on $7.25 an hour. Fallin’s assertion that most minimum-wage workers are “young, single people working part-time [or] high school or college students living with their parents” doesn’t take into account the hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. Lots of those folks – the ones willing to work, anyway – have been forced to take entry-level jobs until something better comes along, if it ever does. And ironically, many of those people have turned to government assistance, like food stamps, to stay afloat.

On the other hand, Fallin is right when she ways raising the wage will not lift people out of poverty. When corporations or small businesses expect a certain level of profit, and an across-the-board wage hike is suddenly forced upon them, they’re bound to make up the difference. Widespread business closure is an extreme with little data to support it, but consolidation and loss of individual jobs is a strong probability. The other alternative is to simply raises prices of products or services to offset higher wages. It doesn’t do much good to get a raise when the extra cash is gobbled up by higher expenses.

But this isn’t about the merits, or flaws, in the argument to raise the minimum wage. This is about local autonomy, and whether a power-hungry pack of flea-bitten wolves at the statehouse has the right to decide what communities can and cannot do.

The next time you hear a state official rant about federal mandates and state’s rights, ask him if he supported this municipal clampdown, and if he did, tell him to stop bumping his sanctimonious gums. All due respect to Alexander Hamilton, the more local a government can be these days, the better off its citizens will be. If mayors and city councils want to raise wages in their jurisdictions, they should be able to do it, and let the local business community hold them accountable for whatever happens.

A vast majority of elected officials have shown themselves to be spectacularly inept at running the statehouse. Given that fact, they need to butt out of local affairs, and stick to squabbles over Ten Commandments monuments and kickbacks for oil companies.

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