County says no to living wage, okays $100,000 study instead
The difficult situation of the working poor in this community has been well publicized in recent weeks. For over three years, the Living Wage Coalition had led efforts to enact living wage ordinances by Gainesville and Alachua County. These ordinances would require that the local government and all employers doing business with it pay a living wage, typically defined to be at the poverty level for a family of four. They have proven to be far more effective in alleviating poverty than "jobs creation" that just leads to more people moving to the area.
The Alachua County Commission turned its back on the working poor on Tuesday, July 9, and defeated a motion by Commissioner Byerly to proceed with a living wage ordinance. Although this would have cost only $50,000, by a 3-2 vote (yes: Long, Newport, Wheat) commissioners chose, instead, to do a $100,000 study of the county's pay classification. This $100,000 study comes at a time when the County is struggling to produce a balanced budget.
A Living Wage Task Force, dominated by business interests, had recommended this action. The LWTF argued that "the free market" should determine wages, i.e. businesses may pay as little as possible, and that a living wage ordinance would "hurt good growth." They decried failure of Alachua County to attract some companies that have gone elsewhere because of better subsidy deals. So much for a free market economy-it is ok for governments to offer subsidies to companies but asking them to pay a living wage is government interference.
The earliest that the Alachua County Commission will take up the living wage issue again is at least a year, after the $100,000 pay classification study. Citizens may have to take the matter in their own hands through a ballot initiative, which is under consideration by the Living Wage Coalition. The November elections would be an excellent time to collect the signatures needed. Then, the low-turnout March 2003 city election would be an ideal time to have the issue on the ballot. If you are interested in helping collect signatures in November, e-mail the Living Wage Coalition at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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