Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) spent ten minutes reading a script to the Aberdeen City Council this evening about his youth minimum wage bill.
When Novstrup finished, the council voted 7–2 to repudiate the youth minimum wage and affirm that the city of Aberdeen will continue to pay all of its workers, regardless of age, at least $8.50 per hour, with the state’s cost-of-living adjustment, exactly as 64% of Brown County voters said they wanted in the November 2014 vote to raise South Dakota’s minimum wage.
Senator Novstrup maintains the fiction that his effort to lower young workers’ minimum wage is about increasing young workers’ opportunities. Yet even he does not appear to believe it. During his remarks, he admitted that any business taking advantage of the youth minimum wage he has written into law would be making “a bad choice,” since, said Novstrup, most young people would quit if their employer tried to cut their pay by a dollar and hour. If the young workers themselves whom Novstrup pretends to protect would vote with their feet against his plan, what additional opportunity is he creating for them?
Sensitive to the ongoing charge that his SB 177 is an affront to the voters, Senator Novstrup asked why it was o.k. for the Aberdeen school district years ago to try passing a bond issue again and again after voters rejected the first try. I didn’t want to interrupt the meeting or throw David off his script, but I would simply remind the Senator that, apparently, he’s discussing a situation in which the school district placed a matter to a public vote, refining its plan each time until it was able to win a majority vote. There is no analogy between school bond votes and Senator Novstrup’s tinkering with the initiative… unless the Senator is saying he wants to put his youth minimum wage to a public vote, too, in which case I say David! Come up the street and sign my petition! We can make that public vote happen!
Councilman David Bunsness was one of only two councillors (the other was Alan Johnson) to vote against the resolution, saying he felt the city’s resolution bore the whiff of partisan politics. Yet even Bunsness seemed to reject Novstrup’s arguments. Bunsness said he probably would have voted against Senate Bill 177, had he had the chance. Hearing Novstrup’s economic theories about higher minimum wages causing job losses, Bunsness boldly declared, “let theory meet reality”—let the minimum wage play out as originally passed, then respond if any negative effects actually happen.
Alas, Bunsness’s bold empiricism evaporated in his subsequent discussion of the cost-of-living adjustment, which he says will be hard on city governments. “History tells us we will see inflation again,” warned Bunsness, ascribing to what sounds very much like an economic theory.
Bunsness did say it would be “stupid” for the city to reduce the minimum wage to $7.50. Councilman Rob Ronayne said he would vote for the resolution for the “optics”, to send the message to folks moving here that Aberdeen is progressive and not “the Taiwan of North America” (oops—there goes all the goodwill from SCR 2).
Councilman Alan Johnson said the city is already demonstrating its progressivism in practice by setting $8.50 as its minimum wage in its budget. He called the resolution “moot… petty…” and possibly “oppositional.”
Councilman Todd Campbell could have been a nay. He said he thinks the minimum wage is “a joke” and that businesses should be able to pay whatever wages society wants. Campbell said that right now, “the law of supply and demand works in Aberdeen,” ensuring that lots of workers are getting above even the new statutory minimum wage. Yet the voters have spoken, said Campbell, and apparently as much a believer in democracy as in Adam Smith, Campbell cast a yes vote on the resolution to show his respect for the voters.
City manager Lynn Lander said he’d likely have recommended the current city wages whether or not the minimum wage increase had been on last year’s ballot. Lander said the city needed to bump its seasonal and part-time workers to $8.50 or more for recruitment and competition, to “get the best staff we can have.” He said the city has won tourism awards because it seeks the best available workers. With tonight’s rejection of Senator Novstrup’s youth minimum wage, the Aberdeen City Council sent a strong signal to Manager Lander that they want him to continue that progressive workforce policy.
Better wages mean better workers who will do better work for a better community. The concept works for grown-ups; it works just as well with kids. It’s too bad David Novstrup is now so buried in justifying his own political games that he can’t step back and admit the simple economic ideas that are so clear to his neighbors.