ST. PETERSBURG — City Council members on Thursday set the stage for adopting what may be the most significant “living wage” measure in the Tampa Bay area.
The proposal would require businesses seeking city contracts of more than $100,000 to pay their workers a living wage, which after some discussion was set at $12 an hour. Four council members meeting as the budget, finance & taxation committee unanimously approved the idea at the behest of Council member Karl Nurse, who is term-limited and serving his last weeks in office.
“These are not children,” Nurse said. “These are full-time jobs for adults. I think it’s immoral that you pay them so little in wages that you guarantee that they are living in poverty.”
By approving the measure, the committee set the stage for the full City Council to vote on it. They’ll likely approve the ordinance before the end of the year.
Nurse sought to have the city require contractors to pay workers $13 an hour for months.
Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration objected, saying it could prevent small businesses from bidding on city contracts and drive up the cost of contracts by about $578,000 a year.
Such an idea has not yet been considered by the city of Tampa or the governments of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
So Nurse cut a dollar an hour out of his ordinance, dropping the initial benchmark to $12 an hour.
That wage would increase by a dollar each year until the workers made $15 an hour.
Kriseman has already promised city workers to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. But City Administrator Gary Cornwell said that while the administration philosophically supported paying contract workers more, the current proposal was too expensive.
He suggested raising the threshold to $500,000 before contractors would have to pay the living wage.
The council rejected that benchmark, keeping the $100,000 trigger point, saying that it was the right thing to do.
The living wage measure has had a rocky road. A final vote was scheduled for earlier this month but then it was removed from the Oct. 5 agenda after the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce requested changes that allowed employers to count health insurance and other benefits toward the hourly wage mandate.
Those changes were incorporated into the new version, which was approved by Nurse and Council members Amy Foster, Darden Rice and Charlie Gerdes.
“I still think that’s the right way to go,” Gerdes said. “I don’t know how anyone could argue that the cost of poverty is not more than this (proposal.)”
Rice also warned against raising wages so high that workers might lose access to federal benefits.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Rice said. “I wouldn’t want any unintended consequences of anyone losing federal benefits — SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aka food stamps) or whatever.”
Ed Montanari, the lone Republican on the council, said he disagreed with government requiring businesses to pay a certain wage.
“My thinking is the best way to raise wages in the city is to cut taxes, cut regulations… versus having a top-down approach where the government imposes a living wage,” said Montanari, who spoke at the meeting but doesn’t sit on the committee, so he could not vote.
The ordinance will have to be vetted all over again, this time in front of all eight City Council members. The tentative date for the final vote is Nov. 16 — nine days after Election Day, when the mayor’s race and three City Council seats will be decided.
The living wage ordinance now joins other controversial measures that have been delayed or tabled in recent months during the mayor’s race. Kriseman has been locked in a brutal and expensive mayoral campaign against former Mayor Rick Baker since May.
Other examples include a proposal to mandate solar panels on roofs for new construction and some replacements and a $92,500 outlay for social media “influencers” to tout the city.
The council also won’t approve what is likely to be a dramatic hike in monthly utility bills to alleviate the city’s massive sewage spills until after the Nov. 7 election.
They did that because they first need to see if voters approve a 10-year extension of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax to help pay for fixing the city’s sewage system.