Recently a new term has been introduced called the living wage. The argument for the living wage is somewhere between human rights and human responsibilities. By rights, we most naturally think of our Bill of Rights which grant certain rights to the citizens – right to own property, right to free speech and so forth.
But, what are human responsibilities? Are we our brothers’/sisters’ keeper and are we responsible for those around us? And if so, to what extent do these responsibilities extend? In other words, are we to look to the welfare of others at our own expense?
- Come to the Public Hearing City Council meeting
- Monday, August 21st at 7PM at City Hall
- Living Wage
- View the items to be decided this week (Council Packets)
Our government has no profit center – all revenue comes from taxes and fees. Individuals and companies earn income and are taxed on that income. These taxes become the money that government has, in the form of Federal, State or Local taxes.
The concept of the living wage, as it applies to county or city employees, asks the question: should tax revenues collected from the tax payers be used to boost the wage of part-time workers to a higher wage, i.e. the living wage? There are two fundamental questions:
Is a living wage a right? And if so, who will pay for it?
In the state of Wisconsin, the state government has changed the funding mechanisms for tax entities such as cities, counties and schools. These entities are no longer free to raise a tax to cover new expenses. New income can only come from new building of property and do not increase just because home values have increased. Second, the total levy is capped. As a result, we have communities and schools with tighter and tighter budgets. They can’t raise taxes even though the costs of doing business has increased.
The state government enacted these tax restraints to limit sky rocketing taxes. The end result is communities cannot increase taxes to meet expenses and therefore the only way to cover these expenses is to eliminate services.
To support a living wage the community must reduce services, i.e. eliminate jobs. This would be in the form of perhaps fewer police or fire fighters, and perhaps less in social services and other departments. The city is no different than you or me. When there isn’t enough money to cover a need or a want either we must work more hours or stop spending somewhere else. For the city, they can’t raise taxes so they must stop spending somewhere else; i.e. cutting services or personnel.
Questions to consider are:
Are the purposes of taxes to fund whatever a council, board or legislators choose to support? Or are they to be centric to living for the greater good of the people in general as historically used for roads, security and infrastructure?
The city budget is primarily to fund operations of roads, snow removal, water, sewer, police, fire, parks, recreation and so forth.
For the city to be directed by the city council to enact a living wage for those part-time workers, all who already earn more than the minimum wage is asking to take tax dollars from those earning incomes to boost others in the community.
Implementing this change across all part time workers will cost somewhere between $40,000 for a small group of part time employees to $400,000 for all part time employees and would grow to nearly a $1,000,000 in total adjustments.
Who would this affect? In short, only those working for the city and perhaps those doing contracts would have to pay the living wage. It would not apply to all businesses as that is outside the powers given to city government.
Supporters of expanding government advance the idea such as the living wage suggest we change the function and purpose of taxes to broaden it to include/increase social welfare. Supporters of limiting government advance the idea that core infrastructures are the responsibility of the city and welfare are beyond the scope a community.
The goal of the living wage concept is a better life for individuals. I believe that a better life comes through being able to earn an income above either the minimum wage or any proposed living wage.
Personal income is increased with skills and training. Our state and local taxes already support our technical schools, work force development and other agencies that are well equipped to assist individuals in earning a wage far above any proposed living wage. With new skills and training, they not only enrich their quality of life for a lifetime, but do without taking away services or personnel from the city.