Linn County wage raise backers are eyeing CR

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My seat was in the Linn County Board of Supervisors’ informal meeting room Monday morning, but my ears could have sworn they were in Cedar Rapids City Hall.

“I’m hoping that Cedar Rapids won’t give into the culture of delay,” said Supervisor Brent Oleson, as he argued in favor of an ordinance raising the minimum wage in Linn County by three bucks over three years. The first board vote on the measure is set for Wednesday.

This sounded awfully familiar.

Actually, it was Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett who coined the “culture of delay” phrase as he ran for mayor in 2009, arguing city leaders back then were moving too slowly on big flood recovery decisions. Now, Oleson worries that the county’s largest city might drag its feet on raising the minimum wage. County communities can opt out or alter the county wage floor.

“We keep talking about being open for business,” Oleson said. “We can be open for business, but the people who work in those businesses need to share in the economic benefits.”

Again, it’s Corbett who often says Cedar Rapids must be “open for business.” Was Oleson brazenly committing grand theft Corbett?

Well, it’s no surprise Cedar Rapids is on supervisors’ minds as they contemplate this wage boost. If Linn’s most populous burg balks or backs away, its effect will be blunted. The thousands of folks county leaders hope would see a raise would be greatly trimmed.

Oleson was hammering that home. Corbett won’t be pressing phrase-theft charges.

Corbett said his city council radar detects no opposition to the first step in the county’s plan, which raises the current $7.25 hourly rate to $8.25 on Jan, 1, 2017. After that, he said, it gets “a little more dicey.” But the city has time to evaluate the issue further before it accepts raises to $9.25 and $10.25 in 2018 and 2019. One person’s culture of delay is another’s period of evaluation and reflection, I guess.

Corbett says the city might opt for some tweaks. Although the county ordinance does not exempt young workers from higher minimums, there may be support on the city council to create a youth carve-out.

Oleson said he’s wary of a provision in the county’s ordinance providing for automatic cost-of-living minimum wage increases starting in July of 2020. “I’m for giving future policymakers options,” he said. I’m betting “shall” will be transformed to a “may,” requiring annual supervisor votes before the raise takes effect.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is this really should be the state Legislature’s job. Oleson and others lamented lawmakers’ failure to address the minimum wage for nearly a decade. He lumped it in with several other instances of head-scratching legislative inaction, from water quality to medical cannabis.

Corbett wondered why Gov. Terry Branstad or other state leaders didn’t send a clear, strong message to local governments they intend to act on the minimum wage in 2017, possibly heading off local votes.

It’s a good bet any minimum wage bill taken up next year will include a provision prohibiting local wage ordinances. Because, really, nobody does culture of delay quite like our golden dome of wisdom.

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