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Martinez’s living wage proposal raises questions

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 by Michael Kanin

A proposal from Council Member Mike Martinez to tie the city’s living wage mandate to an index that would allow it to adjust with the going rate drew a handful of questions from Council members at their Tuesday work session. There, Mayor Lee Leffingwell worried that extending such a policy to the likes of city temporary employees might be overly costly.

It all comes as city staff suggest that adding temporary employees to the living wage policy — a move perhaps not considered in Martinez’s resolution — would bring an additional $2 million in costs, based on the $11.39 living wage.

The thought of broader impacts brought additional worry for Leffingwell, citing the $2 million figure. “I’m concerned because I just found out that (a living wage mandate) has a substantial impact on the city itself if you include all city employees,” he said.

Martinez explained that the proposal — an item on Thursday’s Council agenda — would, in addition to new wage stipulations, start a conversation about the topic. “Because there really wasn’t a study conducted of what a living wage in Austin actually is, we are initiating this resolution to put a stakeholder group together to have a more in-depth conversation to what that index looks like … in our geographic region,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean we’re moving the number now — it’s still $11.39 an hour. But we believe we need to have a more robust conversation of what truly is a living wage, and then, obviously, the consequences of any financial impact that might have on the budget,” Martinez continued. “When we applied (the living wage) this year, it only impacted a handful of city employees and had minimal to no impact on the budget.”

There has been some legal debate about how far that might extend in terms of capital improvement projects. As the Monitor has reported, though city legal staff has suggested a 1999 attorney general’s opinion casts doubt on the city’s ability to proceed in that direction, advocates believe otherwise (scroll to Sept 23).

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