Some local governments are opposing legislation in the Republican-controlled Iowa house that would stop cities and counties from setting an hourly wage that’s higher than the state minimum. If the legislation becomes law this would lower the hourly wages in Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello counties.
Since 2008, Iowa’s minimum wage has been $7.25, which is also the federal minimum. Many argue in 2017 that’s not enough.
Currently the hourly wage in Wapello County is $8.20, though it is scheduled to increase to $10.10 in 2019. Jerry Parker, the chair of Wapello County Board of Supervisors, says his county increased the minimum wage because the state legislature wasn’t taking any action.
"You know if we give the minimum wage people a raise, their kids are going to go to school feeling better," he says. "They’re going to go to school better nourished, their opportunity is to learn, and get themselves out of this cycle of minimum wage."
Parker also bristles that Republican lawmakers are the ones putting forth legislation that takes away control from local government, as he says this is a departure from the GOP's embrace of policies that favor small government.
"They say, 'Well yes, we believe in local control unless you disagree with what we want to do. Then don’t believe in local control.' You either do, or you don’t," Parker says.
Supporters of the legislation include organizations like the Iowa Chamber Alliance and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. They say allowing a patchwork of minimum wages across Iowa hurts business.
"Businesses in Iowa are forced to navigate minimum wage requirements that change from county-to-county and city-by-city," says the Chamber Alliance. "It is unclear how each county will enforce these requirements, creating uncertainty for business owners. This uneven landscape of minimum wages also impacts economic development efforts when there is not a consistent wage across the state."
Peter Fisher of the Iowa Policy Project calls this "a bogus argument."
"Labor markets are local, not statewide, and a local ordinance aimed at dealing with local market conditions makes sense," writes Fisher in an IPP blog post. "Nor is it plausible to argue that paying a different wage to different workers is a burden to businesses, who do that all the time."
Iowa is one of 14 states that has it's minimum wage set to the federal minimum. Twenty-nine states have a wage higher than the federal, five states have no minimum wage, and two others -- Georgia and Wyoming -- have wages lower than the federal minimum wage.