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Aberdeen City Council Indulges Novstrup, Rebuffs Youth Minimum Wage

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.

Aberdeen City resolution affirming the ballot initiative, repudiating SB 177's attack thereupon, and  supporting the same minimum wage for all city workers, regardless of age.
Aberdeen City resolution affirming the ballot initiative, repudiating SB 177’s attack thereupon, and supporting the same minimum wage for all city workers, regardless of age.

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.


  1. Jana 2015-04-06

    Ouch!! That’s gonna leave a mark next election.

  2. Roger Cornelius 2015-04-06

    How much did Novstrup pay Daugaard to sign SB177?
    There had to be a monetary exchange somewhere along the line, this is South Dakota politics after all.

  3. MOSES 2015-04-06

    Hey Novastrup who got schooled.

  4. David Newquist 2015-04-06

    Novstrup said in 2010 that the proposal of having nonpartisan citizens involved in redistricting made him nervous was made even more frantic by having citizens approve the minimum wage referendum. He has real problems with democracy and wants to put the peons in their place by demonstrating that their children are worth less than the rest of society. On the tree of political lights from District 3, David Novstrup dwells in dimness.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-07

    Roger, Novstrup wouldn’t have paid Daugaard anything. Novstrup isn’t the power player here; he’s the waterboy.

    Dr. Newquist, I look forward to making our neighbor Senator Novstrup increasingly and unceasingly nervous. Those who are allergic to democracy deserve to sneeze.

    I would have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror each morning if I had to spend every day making up stories about fighting for opportunities for kids when in reality I was exerting myself to cut their pay and exploit their labor. If I were Senator Novstrup, a referendum on this topic would make me nervous, because instead of being able to say, “Whew! Bill passed! Debate done! Let the forgetting and distraction begin!” the press would now keep calling and asking me questions about this exploitative bill for another 15 months.

  6. mike from iowa 2015-04-07

    I wonder how much under 18 year old illegal immigrant kids get paid less than their legal counterparts in South Dakota?

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-07

    I’m still grappling with Novstrup’s argument (peddled also by Sen. Brock Greenfield in last night’s KSFY report and Governor Daugaard in his March 31 letter) that we are creating opportunities for young people. Says Novstrup:

    Kids are inferior workers. They don’t have experience. Employers have to work around their school schedules. Child labor laws prevent employers from using kids for some work. Some businesses (never a specific example, always hypothetical assertion) won’t hire kids at $8.50 an hour. Those businesses should get a break for “taking a chance” on hiring those kids.

    Novstrup seems to be saying we should allow businesses to save money by hiring inferior workers who will deliver a worse product. Do I really want to do business with a company that operates under that mindset? Isn’t that like going to the gas station that stocks its restrooms with the cheapest toilet paper?

    Novstrup’s youth minimum wage seems to discourage young workers and cheap business owners from rising to standards of quality work. Instead of pretending to be Mr. Social Justice/”Give Kids a Chance,” maybe Novstrup should rediscover his basic market roots and say the following to all employers:

    “The minimum wage is $8.50. Every worker you hire deserves at least that much for his or her sacrifice of time, sweat, and liberty to your command. That minimum wage protects workers from unscrupulous employers; it also protects good businesses like yours from sleazy businesses that would try to undercut you by cheating their workers. If you have applicants who you don’t think can produce that much value, don’t hire them. If you have first-time workers who don’t understand the world of work, explain to them what you expect for $8.50 an hour.”

    If I were 17 and looking at a labor market governed by Novstrup, I might sit out until I was 18. Why should I enter the workforce just to be forced into a sub-class of inferior workers? Why should I allow myself to be exploited in that fashion?

  8. 96Tears 2015-04-07

    What’s soooo stupid about the Aberdeen City Council resolution is its admission that if you’re 18 and over, you deserved the pay raise voters gave you. We can afford it.

    But if you’re 17 and under, oh no, we can’t afford that! Let’s cut your pay!

    Really??? What share of South Dakota’s workforce is 17 and under?

  9. Porter Lansing 2015-04-07

    Why would Aberdeen Senator David Novstrup want to stick his neck out and propose something this politically devisive? Hmmm ….. He manages his family’s business which employs young people to great extent. Thunder Road Family Fun Parks. Wouldn’t being able to underpay his youthful employees constitute a conflict of interest to passing a law that would directly benefit himself? On the surface it seems so but either way it’s a despicable way for a public servant to act. Here’s some info on what his employees are required to do.

  10. Roger Cornelius 2015-04-07

    Workers regardless of their age, sex, and whatever else are only as good as their training. It is incumbent on the employer to train workers for specific jobs. From the pitch I’m hearing from Novstrup, he doesn’t know or isn’t willing to train 17 year old workers.

    Most young workers are in jobs that require a routine, not necessarily learning trade skills, how difficult is it for Novstrup to teach that routine and produce a superior 17 year old worker?

    For Novstrup, the governor, and the republican legislature that overruled the peoples mandate on minimum wage, it is not just about economics and labor, it is about power and control.

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