It’s been a month of bad behavior for the old guard of Seattle city leadership — the folks who assume their entitlement to run our city, the self-identified wise, old heads for whom former Mayor Mike McGinn was an uninvited usurper, district elections is a biblical plague and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s continuing existence is an inexplicable nightmare that can’t be happening.
They are well represented on the mayor’s minimum-wage advisory committee. Their mandate is clear: find a way to subvert the seemingly unstoppable momentum to adopt a $15-per-hour minimum wage, the issue that propelled Sawant’s unlikely victory last fall and elicited verbal fealty from the new mayor and a supermajority of council members. (Full disclosure: The author was a senior consultant to Sawant’s campaign.)
A recent poll found a supermajority of Seattle residents support the concept, too, including an astonishing two-thirds backing immediate enactment with no exceptions — a more extreme position than even Sawant is proposing.
With the two most obvious ways of weaseling out of meaningful reform seemingly blocked — exempting everyone except businesses that employ more than, say, 300,000 people within city limits, or phasing the new wage in over a 40-year period — you knew our Wise Old Heads would need to get creative. And now we know what they came up with: “total compensation wage.”
Changing the meaning
In the half-century of North American political battles over minimum wages, this may be a first: trying to gut a minimum-wage law by redefining the word “wage.” It no longer would mean, under the committee members’ proposal, “monetary compensation paid by an employer to an employee in exchange for work done,” according to Wikipedia. Nor would it be “a payment of money for labor or services,” as Webster’s Dictionary defines it.
Instead, our esteemed — and unelected — advisors want to base the city’s minimum-wage law on the “total compensation cost” to the employer of paying an employee. This isn’t even just throwing in “non-monetary” compensation — tips, the cost of paid sick days, vacation days, health insurance, dental, pension contributions or other less likely benefits. It’s also costs to the employer for things like FICA, payroll taxes or insurance.
This severely violates not only the English language but also the spirit of the reform. It could actually decrease the minimum payments some low-paid workers receive for their time.
The fact that it’s being proposed by people for whom $15 is what you pay to get an adequate chocolate bar is especially galling. And the fact that it’s not being laughed into Elliott Bay by policymakers tells you a lot about how Seattle has been run for most of its history and on whose behalf.
‘A new, little fiefdom’
There’s more, as there always is. The council has now sent to a supportive mayor a proposal for a ballot measure this August — when fewer people vote — creating a new Seattle Metropolitan Parks District, with its own separate taxing authority.
The case for a new Seattle parks district rests on an undeniable truth: Seattle has fallen far behind on basic maintenance, let alone improvement and acquisition, of its parklands. It’s relied on inadequate levies, while pouring funds, instead, into showy vanity projects more useful for jacking up real estate values.
Of course, the city could just spend more money on parks. But what backers don’t mention is that City Council seats are no longer the comfortable lifetime sinecures they seemed just last year, so the vanity project people need less-accountable hands on the spigot that funds them.
Enter the Seattle Metropolitan Parks District, which will have unlimited taxing authority, without elected leadership — in other words, a new, little fiefdom with all the built-in corruption of the Port of Seattle, but none of the accountability (yes, that was sarcasm).
Speaking of vanity projects, the April 22 countywide special election to create a local transit district to fund Metro Transit — which looks ever wiser after yet another legislative session in which Republicans blocked passage of any transportation budget — will mean $80 million earmarked to Metro but also another $50 million going to cities. That means the City of Seattle would get $16.5 million more that can — like every other recent discretionary transportation money — be siphoned off into the real estate scam known as streetcars.
Recently, lead City Council fundraiser Tom Rasmussen introduced a measure to accept the prospective new county car-tab money with “no strings attached.” When the council’s Bolshevik wing offered an amendment to require spending the county money on what the public thinks it’s voting for — that is, buses — Rasmussen withdrew his own motion.
District elections never looked so good. Know where your wallets and purses are at all times.
GEOV PARRISH is cofounder of Eat the State! He also reviews news of the week on “Mind Over Matters” on KEXP 90.3 FM.
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