The Saint Louis Board of Aldermen met yesterday to discuss a modified proposal that would have raised the city’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2020. Eventually, the Board passed a measure that would raise the wage to $11 per hour by 2018. The bill needs just one more vote before going to Mayor Slay.
Some might see a silver lining in the fact that the minimum wage will “only” go up to $11 instead of $13 or $15 per hour. That lining, unfortunately, is hair-thin; an $11 per hour minimum wage is still likely to have serious, negative consequences for the Saint Louis labor market, hurting the very people it is meant to help. If enacted, the increase will make Saint Louis County even more attractive to businesses compared to the city, because the county will have a much lower minimum wage coupled with the lack of an earnings tax.
The timing of this proposal is significant; it was passed now so that it would be exempt from HB 722, which, if enacted, would bar cities from raising their minimum wages after August 28 of this year. However, even if the minimum wage proposal is enacted before HB 722 goes into effect, there are still legal issues with this bill. Namely, section 67.1571 of Missouri State Statutes states that “No municipality as defined in section 1, paragraph 2, subsection (9) shall establish, mandate or otherwise require a minimum wage that exceeds the state minimum wage.”
Of course, things are never as simple as we might hope with regard to state statutes. A Saint Louis Circuit Court did rule that 67.1571 is invalid on procedural grounds. However, no higher court has ruled on this, so the question of 67.1571’s constitutionality is still open.
Relying on the courts to come to the rescue is no substitute for avoiding bad legislation in the first place. Policymakers should realize that minimum wage increases are not the way to alleviate poverty—but if they don’t, a court ruling that the increase is invalid would preserve the jobs of many low-wage workers in the city.