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Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Council OKs prevailing wage as part of economic development deals
The City Council on Thursday voted to make
The discussion and vote, a four-hour conversation, solidifies what has become an automatic late night discussion over how the city proceeds with its development incentive awards.
The other city with such a requirement for companies seeking tax abatements and other incentives is
The move came over the objections of local business leaders, who worried that the change would drive down the desirability of
The vote is another victory for the Workers Defense Project. That organization has pushed the prevailing wage issue to the front of Council debates over economic incentives over the past few years. That effort, most notably, ended in no small amount of confusion over prevailing wages as defined by a deal to waive $3.8 million in fees for a new JW Marriott Hotel at
The rules reset how Council members evaluate incentive deals. It changes a matrix that both establishes entry requirements for development deals, and a path for interested firms to get up to 100 percent property tax abatements.
Business interests and labor activists agreed on much of what was on Council’s table. That includes a new $11 an hour wage floor for participating companies. That, as Council Member Bill Spelman noted, left prevailing wages as the sticking point.
Council Member Chris Riley ultimately provided the solution. He moved to include the prevailing wage section of the matrix in an exceptions process that had been developed for the wage floor. That caught a five-member majority (with Spelman and Leffingwell voting no), and eventually passed along with the rest of the item.
Leffingwell and the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Dave Porter, meanwhile, worried that the exceptions process – with its unveiling of potential candidates – could sink interest in the city’s economic investment policy.
Riley also assured that projects in the city’s pipeline would not be subject to the new rules with a grandfathering amendment. Staff said there are 10 deals currently in the pipeline.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
prevailing wage: The hourly wage paid in the largest city in each county.
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce: This group counts more than 2900 businesses and other entities as part of its membership. According to its web site, the organization has served as the "voice of the business community since 1877."
Workers Defense Project: A nonprofit advocacy group that provides resources to ensure low-income workers fair employment.