BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON/KEOKUK – Lee County would potentially move their minimum wage to $8.20 on May 1, but a bill awaits Gov. Terry Branstad’s signature that could wipe the measure out.
At a split meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, a morning session in Fort Madison and an afternoon session in Keokuk, two separate discussions were held before a final vote to move the wage from the current rate of $7.25. The vote passed, 4-1, to a smattering of applause from about 20 people in attendance, most of whom were appointees to the Raise the Wage committee. Supervisor Ron Fedler cast the dissenting vote.
Fedler has stood his ground throughout the vote saying the wage should be set by the federal or state governments, while the other board members took a position that the state had ample time to do so but hadn’t moved on the wage.
House File 295, the bill preempting the counties’ rights to set their own minimum wage, was approved by the Iowa Senate on Monday night and will now go before the governor. If it’s signed, all counties will be required to go back to the $7.25 minimum. Employers would be free to pay as they see fit as long as they pay the state minimum.
The Raise the Wage committee was made up of appointees by supervisors. Kathy Gabel, a member of the wage committee appointed by Supervisor Gary Folluo said she was thrilled with the vote despite the looming legislation.
“I’m thrilled. I think it really reflects our county as being progressive,” Gabel said. “I know there are some obstacles at the state level but I really think these guys listened to the commission they put together and respected that information and said, ‘Yeah.’.”
Chairman Rick Larkin said it’s his belief that Gov. Branstad will sign the bill and possibly something could come from the Ways and Means committee to bump the wage this session, but he didn’t think that was probable.
“I presume that when it passed the Senate in the same version as it did the House, it goes directly to the governor and he’s gonna sign it,” Larkin said after the meeting. “Now they may want a wage attached to it and it’s a revenue issue it may be able to go through Ways and Means.”
Larkin said he would venture a guess that during next year’s election cycle a minimum wage bill will be presented.
Tracy Leone of the Iowa Labor Federation, a proponent of increasing minimum wages across the state, agreed with Larkin’s assessment.
“My bet is the governor will sign it. If I look into the crystal ball I would say they would introduce a bill next year. There is no live bill to do it right now.”
She, too, said since the wage is a revenue issue something could come from the Ways and Means committee in the form of a bump, but she wouldn’t bet on that. Leone also pointed to some confusion between Branstad and the Iowa Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer.
“I heard the Governor said on public radio yesterday that he had said all along he would like to see the wage raised modestly. $8.20 is modest, but Speaker Linda Upmeyer said that conversation never happened. So there’s some confusion out there already.”
Folluo said he didn’t understand why anyone would be against a minimum wage boost.
From a personal standpoint, I don’t understand anyone feeling threatened by raising the minimum wage,” Folluo said. “I was a small business owner myself and I started people at minimum wage, but whatever wage that is is just part of doing business,” he said.
Gabel said if the governor does sign the law and the minimum wage isn’t increased, that another effort would have to be underway.
“We start all over again, maybe at the state level, I don’t know,” she said. “But the Home Rule thing they are trying to change is disappointing so I think they’re trying to do two things with one bill and that’s frustrating. I think that Gov. Branstad is in favor of raising the wage, so I was really hopeful hearing that. In the meantime a lot of people go without, it may not seem like a lot of money to some people, but to the people that are living within that income, it is a step.”