July 30, 2015

Kansas City first in Missouri to approve minimum wage hike

The Kansas City council has voted to increase the minimum wage for businesses in the city, but members wonder whether the hike will stand.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James

Kansas City Mayor Sly James

The council passed an ordinance that would on August 24 set the minimum wage in Kansas City at $8.50 an hour; an increase from the state’s minimum wage of $7.65. It would then increase that minimum annually on January 1, eventually to 13-dollars in 2020 and based on the cost of living each year after that.

Councilman Ed Ford said being the first city to pass such an ordinance makes Kansas City a target.

“We will be the first and only city in Missouri to have an enacted a minimum wage statute so we will bear the brunt of all the lawsuits and the legal shenanigans that go on,” said Ford, who cast the only vote against the ordinance. “We will not have the final say today. We know this is going to go to court. We know that the legislature next January will probably strike down whatever we pass. There may be a referendum. There may be a petition.”

Ford said to pass the ordinance with the potential challenges it will face would present a “false hope” to people trying to make a living.

Kansas City council staff have also said that enforcement of such ordinances has proven the greatest challenge in Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

Mayor Sly James acknowledged the ordinance’s lack of an enforcement mechanism, but despite such concerns he supported the plan.

“Why are we doing it? Because we believe that it is moral and right to try to give people a higher wage so that they can live better,” said James.

Proponents hope the vote will prove a higher wage works so that the state and other cities will follow.

The increase would only apply to those 18 and older and exempts government employees except Kansas City employees, as well as apprentices, certain charity workers and volunteers, and interns working for academic credit.

Tipped worker’s pay would be at least half the state’s minimum wage.

Top amounts for Access Missouri scholarships increases

College students have the opportunity to receive more funding through Access Missouri scholarships. The maximum scholarship award has increased from $660 to $850 for students attending two-year schools and from $1,500 to $1,850 for those attending four year colleges.


Governor Jay Nixon

Governor Jay Nixon says the increase is good for the economy.

“We count on students to graduate, get jobs and spend money. If students are graduating, getting jobs and paying us back, that doesn’t really help the economy at the level we need.”

Nixon says student loan debt is an increasing problem.

“There’s more than a trillion dollars by students. There’s more student loan debt in America today than there is credit card debt. It’s unbelievable.”

The money for the increase was released by the Governor from the fiscal year 2015 budget. Those funds will be used in the upcoming school year.

Access Missouri is a needs-based scholarship program to help students of low-income families attend a participating Missouri college or university. Approximately 50,000 students receive an Access Missouri scholarship annually.




Missouri bill banning city minimum wage hikes, plastic bag bans, vetoed

Governor Jay Nixon has vetoed legislation that would bar cities from setting a minimum wage or benefit level for businesses in its limits that is greater than that in state or federal law, and would prevent cities from banning the use of plastic bags.

Jay Nixon (photo credit UPI)

Jay Nixon (photo credit UPI)

Nixon said the bill interfered with local government control.

“Proponents of this legislation believe that their views should supplant the decisions of elected local officeholders on matters traditionally within the purview of local government, ranging from policies affecting the local standard of living to the more granular question of “paper or plastic,” Nixon wrote in his veto message. “Because I support local control, I will not approve House Bill 722.”

The minimum wage component of the bill was offered by Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City), who argued it should be up to Missouri businesses whether to set a wage or benefit level higher than the state or federal requirement.

Executive Director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, Lara Granich, agreed with Nixon’s assessment and said cities should be able to try on higher wages.

“St. Louis and Kansas City can really try out and provide leadership on higher wages and the rest of the state can see how that works for working people in that community and the local economy, and decide whether to follow,” Granich told Missourinet.

Local governments in St. Louis and Kansas City are close to voting on an increase in the minimum wage. If either is voted into law by the bill’s effective date of August 28, it would remain in effect even if the legislature overturns the governor’s veto.

The sponsor of HB 722 and state director of the Missouri Grocers Association, Representative Dan Shaul (R-Imperial), said he’s disappointed with the veto.

His bill started out as a ban on municipal bans on plastic bags. Columbia was one city considering such a ban earlier this year.

Shaul says neither component of the bill was an overreach by the legislature.

“I think through the debate in the general assembly we clearly defined that some issues should be decided at the state level, and these were two that we felt very strongly about,” said Shaul. “By enacting this legislation the ultimate local control on the bag portion of it would have been back to the consumer.”

The bill received enough votes in the state Senate to overturn Nixon’s veto, but in the House it fell four votes short of the 109 necessary. Shaul thinks those four votes can be found.

“I look forward to the opportunity during the upcoming veto session to discuss how this bill will help business and also consumers’ choice,” said Shaul.

Missouri could face Canadian sanctions over labeling program

Economic sanctions could target Missouri, as well as the other 49 states, if the U.S. doesn’t lift the requirement that meat be labeled according to the country it came from.

Missouri pork is one of the products Canada intends to target with tariffs if given permission by the WTO, and if the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Program isn't repealed.  (photo courtesy; the University of Missouri College of Agriculture)

Missouri pork is one of the products Canada intends to target with tariffs if given permission by the WTO, and if the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Program isn’t repealed. (photo courtesy; the University of Missouri College of Agriculture)

The World Trade Organization has for the fourth time ruled against the United States’ Country of Origin Labeling program (COOL), saying it discriminates against Mexican and Canadian livestock. The United States is out of appeals, and now Canadian General Consul Roy Norton says Canada is preparing to ask the Organization for permission to enact tariffs on its imports from the U.S.

“It’s not Canada’s objective or desire to retaliate against any product coming from the United States – Missouri, or any other state – to Canada. We love Missouri products,” said Norton. “But we feel that, having one four times in the court of law and nothing having happened so far on this, we have no choice but to signal a willingness to retaliate. When the WTO tells us, probably by September, what the dollar value of our losses has been, we will then have the final authority, as it were, to retaliate, if the United States hasn’t acted in the interim.”

Canada has identified about $60-million dollars’ worth of Missouri products it imports that could face tariffs. Top targets are cereals, which represent $25-million in exports a year; iron or steel grinding balls, the export of which are valued at $14-million; and baked goods including bread and cakes, worth $13-million.

Mexico’s market for Missouri goods is more than twice as large as Canada’s, and it’s also considering tariffs.

Legislation is moving in Washington to eliminate the labeling program. This week it cleared the House Agriculture Committee. Three members of Missouri’s Congressional Delegation; Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R, MO-4) and Congressmen Sam Graves (R, MO-6) and Billy Long (R, MO-7), are sponsors of that bill.

Hartzler, after voting in favor of the bill with a majority of the committee’s members, issued a statement in which she called COOL a “troublesome” law.

“I have heard many times from the producers and livestock owners in Missouri of the negative effects of this provision,” wrote Hartzler. “The truth is the COOL program amounts to nothing more than a government mandated marketing program that does not provide any real value to producers or consumers.”

Supporters of COOL say the U.S. has a right to implement the labeling program and say Canada and other countries’ opposition is based on American consumers’ preference for U.S. products. They argue the WTO shouldn’t be allowed to decide U.S. food policy.

COOL backers also say labeling is a food safety issue, noting that a cow recently tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological disease in cattle. It is the first such case in Canada since 2011. Norton argues COOL has nothing to do with food safety.

“The argument is made, but without any factual basis,” he told Missourinet.


Governor vetoes bill cutting unemployment time limit, override expected

The Governor has vetoed a bill that would reduce the length of time a person can be on unemployment. The bill would drop the maximum length of time a person can receive those benefits from 20 weeks to 13.

Senators Mike Kehoe and Scott Fitzpatrick

Senators Mike Kehoe and Scott Fitzpatrick

In a press release, Governor Nixon says “Supporters of this bill have forgotten that workers earn these insurance benefits by working, and that tough economic times often last longer than a mere 13 weeks. Missouri’s unemployment insurance trust fund remains, and is projected to remain, financially sound.”

House bill sponsor Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) tells Missourinet the state has a recurring problem of running out of money in the unemployment trust fund during a recession.

“When you run out of money in your unemployment trust fund, you have to either borrow from the federal government to continue to pay unemployment benefits or you have to go out to the private market and issue credit instruments to finance your ongoing unemployment obligations,” said Fitzpatrick.  “Since this last recession was pretty significant, we ran out of money, like we have in each of the last five recessions. We are the only state who’s run out of money in each of the last five recessions and has had to borrow.”

Senate bill sponsor Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) says it’s important for people to be self-sufficient.

“Unemployment insurance is meant to be kind of a net for somebody to get from one job to the next. It’s not meant to be the next job,” said Kehoe.

He said he doesn’t want the unemployment trust fund to continue to dry up during a recession and be a liability to Missourians and businesses. “At one point in time we were $550 million in debt to the federal government because that’s how far out of whack the unemployment trust fund was.”

Fitzpatrick and Kehoe both believe there are enough votes in the House and Senate to override the veto.