Staff Editorials

Home rule erosions don't address underlying problems

A gavel sits on the House Speaker's Podium before the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A gavel sits on the House Speaker's Podium before the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa lawmakers are missing the point. County supervisors didn’t enter the minimum wage fight on a whim. Local governments didn’t enact human rights ordinances without cause. Municipalities aren’t willy-nilly exploring ways to discourage use of Styrofoam and plastic.

Local leaders are listening to community needs and concerns, and acting based on their findings.

Instead of shuttering such advances, legislators should reconsider the years of inaction that prompted locals to forge their own path.

House File 295, if passed, would further erode the ability of local government officials to address local problems.

The bill rolls back minimum wages increases in four Iowa counties — Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello — and would prematurely end wage explorations in Black Hawk and Lee counties. Other employment practices such as scheduling and benefits couldn’t rise above state edicts.

Any added civil rights protections would be cast aside.

Local leaders hoping to address environmental and landfill concerns would have their hands needlessly tied.

It’s been a decade since Iowans saw their last minimum wage increase. Ironically, the last boost — from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour — was negotiated by state lawmakers a year before their federal counterparts chose to act. Such early action also means that no other state has lingered at $7.25 per hour longer than Iowa.

All but one of the states surrounding Iowa pay more. Missouri, Minnesota and South Dakota have additionally depoliticized the issue by tying increases to inflation — something this board has repeatedly encouraged.

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Indexing the minimum wage ensures compensation keeps pace with living costs while minimizing the effect on business.

We continue to prefer a uniform, statewide minimum wage. Our guess is that most counties do as well.

But if lawmakers’ only alternative to the emerging patchwork is one consistently inadequate wage, we favor the patchwork.

It’s far better for workers, who struggle at $7.25 per hour. And better for local businesses and the economy, which thrive on consumer spending. It’s also better for taxpayers, who are otherwise on the hook to subsidize low wages with safety nets.

State and federal inaction has forced local governments to act. Taking away the ability of local governments to bridge the gap won’t make local needs any less.

• Comments: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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