9-26-13 – An Unbearable Mess of a Livable Wage

The City of Burlington, fresh from not creating a tax or economic development structure that creates those things other cities sometimes know as “jobs”, has recently decided to re-animate the corpse of livable wages. Which begs the immediate question:  What’s an unlivable wage? One that cannot be taken out zombie-style, with a headshot?

The wonderful math magicians at the city’s Ordinance Committee coughed up this precision-filled gem (all courtesy of the Freeps):

The ordinance currently requires city contractors working on service contracts or
grants of at least $15,000 to pay their employees $13.94 an hour if they provide
health insurance, and $15.83 if they do not provide health insurance. Vermont’s
minimum wage is $8.60 an hour.

Ahhh…micromanagement of wage scales. I guess the city couldn’t just competitively bid out contract work, and let price, quality, and delivery determine the value of the product.  Nah.  They’re enlightened, you see.  So instead of following something approaching a standard, sane, and rational practice, the city chooses to inflate the price of labor in the future contract.  Their lofty ideas simply become part of the RFP requirements by setting a wage standard.  The result is that the taxpayers are paying more than they need to based on the flighty whims of a few council members.

There is no such thing as a livable wage. A wage is simply the cost of labor.  It’s not a policy, it’s not a preference, it’s not a unicorn-laden chariot of the gods. It’s simply a cost, like road salt, electricity, sewer pipes, curbing, and city employee pension funds.

But not only does a handful of people elected to office in Burlington (an election which, for some reason, does not seem to magically imbue them with Solomon-like levels of wisdom) get to determine what a livable wage should be (as if they could actually calculate that precisely, but they’ve gone and done it to the penny), they also get to implement the cost increase as part of public policy for what I assume are only a handful of contracts that the city hands out in any given year.

And there’s more! Like free money, there’s no end to it:

• Employers working under city contracts or grants would be required to submit a yearly written certification that they pay employees a livable wage.

The city’s just increased the administrative costs for the contractors they hire – increasing the price Burlingtonians pay for their contracts.  Congratulations, Burlingtonians!

• The city would appoint a “designated accountability monitor” to communicate with covered employees and refer employee complaints to the city.

The city just hired a new employee. This should start saving taxpayers money immediately.

• Seasonal and temporary city employees who work at least 10 hours per week and return for at least three years would receive a livable wage beginning in the third year.

The city just increased administrative and tracking costs.  Again.  How many seasonal and temps come back each year for the same job for more than 3 years, anyway? And why should the taxpayer care?

• Any request for an exemption from the livable wage ordinance would be brought before the full City Council after review by the Board of Finance, and exemptions would expire after two years.

Just like BarryCare ™, the Council will act as feudal lords, dispensing economic and social justice as they see fit. It’s good to be the King.

Well, it’s only free if you pay off a politician. But after that, it’s like totally free.

Simply put, the livable wage issue is a dog and pony show put up to make the councilors feel good about themselves, and to give them something to point back to at election time.  There’s a long line of out-of-state students up the hill from City Hall who’d love to vote for someone who brought this policy forward.

But the people they’ll be selling this to will have paid more in taxes to support an artificially created wage in order to have the results of this higher expense sold back to them as a reason to re-elect the policy’s authors.

If you’re looking for the winners in this circular firing squad, you’d be hard pressed to find one, other than the people who seem to think that raising costs magically cures all of society’s harms with the stroke of a pen. All that’s been done here is the successful passing of the buck along to the taxpayers, again, and yet another round of Progressive self-congratulation.

– Chris Campion, reprinted with permission from dangerwaffles.com

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alex Darr October 15, 2013 at 6:58 pm

I couldn’t have said it better. A well stated drubbing I say! Well Played!

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