Yesterday, I mentioned that Senator Roger Webb, who enjoys taxpayer-funded health care for a few months of work every two years, had the audacity to suggest that the taxpayers of Montana should pay his membership dues in ALEC, the corporate front group that writes pro-business legislation for the states. I also mentioned he had turned over the writing of one bill to ALEC, “his” SB 314, which would create an “Interstate pipeline compact.”
It turns out that wasn’t his only pro-ALEC, anti-worker proposal. Webb also introduced SB 241, which would disallow cities or counties from establishing minimum wages higher that those provided by state law. The specific language of the bill prohibits local governments from requiring “an employer, other than for the political subdivision itself, to provide an employee or class of employees with a wage or employment benefit that is not required by state or federal law.” The bill has already passed the House and Senate, and was transmitted to the governor on March 24.
Now where would Webb have come up with the idea to prevent local governments from creating their own livable wages? From his masters at ALEC, who specifically have targeted local living wage ordinances as a means of combating increases in the minimum wage, of course. While ALEC relies on flawed, biased science to argue that businesses can’t afford to pay their workers, the research makes it clear that raising the minimum wage will reduce poverty without costing the government or taxpayers a cent:
Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as many Democrats are proposing in 2014, would reduce the number of people living in poverty by 4.6 million. It would also boost the incomes of those at the 10th percentile by $1,700. That’s a significant increase in the quality of life for our worst off that doesn’t require the government to tax and spend a single additional dollar.
Raising the minimum wage makes moral and economic sense. That probably explains why Senator Webb opposes it. But he knows that people support increasing it, even when they support conservative candidates for office. The movement towards increasing the minimum wage is even happening at places like McDonald’s, who seem to realize not paying their workers enough to buy their cheap food isn’t good long term economic strategy. And Senator Webb—and his masters at ALEC—simply can’t buy off the public as easily as they can legislators.
Webb is playing the rather typical Montana Republican game of saying he’s for “local control” when it comes to crackpot theories like defunding the Common Core, but against that same local control when it comes to letting the people of a community decide they want businesses to pay workers a wage sufficient for living in that community.
Governor Bullock was right to veto this bad bill. Not because it was presented by Senator Webb, not because it violates local control, and not even because it was written by ALEC. He was right to veto it because it’s time for communities to start to do just what Senator Webb fears, to begin the movement to pay workers a livable wage.