by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Making good on a campaign promise that helped carry him to victory in the last election, Seattle’s Mayor-elect Ed Murray announced the formation of a committee tasked with investigating the feasibility of an increase to the city’s minimum wage to a possible $15 per hour. The group, which Murray is calling the “Income Inequality Advisory Committee,” is part of Murray’s efforts to help keep Seattle from becoming unlivable for many of the city’s working-class residents.
“Our city is becoming an unaffordable city for too many middle-class families, artists, students, young people, service-industry workers, immigrants new to the country,” Murray said. “Seattle really is on the cusp of falling beyond the financial reach of too many of those who give our city its diverse character, the very people who make this city run.”
Murray stressed that the minimum wage should not only be a livable wage, but it should also be a platform to help move people out of poverty and into the middle class, which it “has not been for some time.” David Rolf, the President of SEIU 775NW and co-chair of the IIAC along with H.S. Wright III, the founder and CEO of the Seattle Hospitality Group, emphasized that even the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had cited the high-levels of poverty and low-levels of social mobility in the United States as a threat to the nation’s economic prosperity.
When asked about why he endorsed the specific $15-per-hour figure, Murray stated that data has indicated that that amount would be necessary for a livable wage in the city, and that the committee would investigate this data to identify if that figure would be appropriate.
When asked about the input from small business owners regarding how the minimum wage would affect them, Murray said that the make-up of the committee has been tailored to be “broad enough to ensure there is a voice” for small businesses in the conversation regarding the practicality of instituting a $15-per-hour minimum wage.
“It’s too early in the process to decide anything,” said committee member Bob Donegan, president and CEO of Ivar’s Seafood Restaurant & Chowder. “Two of the people who are standing up here were members on the viaduct stakeholder’s process. We were two of the only people who could be counted on one hand who proposed the tunnel plus transit solution. Remember in 2008, 2009 when no one could agree on anything? But we’re on this committee. We’re not going to take positions on anything until we see the data, we go through the process, and argue about it. Everything is open, nothing is decided, from our perspective.”
The group also includes Councilmembers Nick Licata, Bruce Harrel, and the recently-elected Kshama Sawant, as well as numerous business owners, labor group representatives, and business associations. The group will submit its recommendation to Murray in May 2014, which will then lead to Murray creating a formalized proposal for the City Council to act on in July.
“These individuals are not here as the latest installment of the Seattle process,” Murray said. “They are here to participate in a structured effort, within a defined timeframe, with clear goals and clear deadlines, while driving toward a clear end-product, which is a proposal that I can submit to City Council this summer.”
During the conference, Murray mentioned that other efforts to help drive down the cost of rent would also be explored by his administration, including efforts to directly address the issues surrounding the skyrocketing cost of living across Seattle, particularly for workforce housing. Capitol Hill currently leads the city in annual rent increases.
“We have become less and less of a city where people can afford to rent, much less buy,” Murray said. “There are practices around the nation that are attempting to address this issue, and we’re working to develop those policies.”
Murray stated that the effort to address cost of living is being explored parallel to the committee’s deliberations on the minimum wage increase, but will not fall under the IIAC’s purview. Rent control, which is currently forbidden under Washington State law, is not currently being considered as an option by the mayor-elect.
Although the issue remains contentious for many city residents, Murray said that he hopes that the committee will deliver meaningful legislation and reinforced his stance on the issue being critical to the survival of the city’s economy.
“We have a challenge before us,” Murray said. “Is this going to be a city for the rich? Or is this going to be a city that is diverse economically, racially, ethnically? That is the challenge before us. The issue of economic disparity really is the driver of whether this city grows more economically diverse or becomes less economically diverse.”