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Nixon vetoes bill limiting minimum wage for cities

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With the stroke of his veto pen, Gov. Jay Nixon may have given even more room to Kansas City and Saint Louis lawmakers looking to increase their minimum wage past the statewide level when the Democratic governor rejected a measure from Republican lawmakers that would have prohibited just that.

Nixon said in his veto message that HB 722 “injected the heavy hand of government” into local decisions by prohibiting individual municipalities from establishing a minimum wage that exceeds state or federal limits. Supporters of the bill during the legislative session said allowing cities to make the decision created too much uncertainty for businesses statewide in Missouri, while opponents called the move a blow to local control.

“House Bill 722 is a clear example of unwarranted government intrusion – in this case, interference with the policymaking of local governments and the abandonment of the principle of local control,” Nixon wrote in his veto letter. “Local voters ought to have the right to decide these issues. Just as there should be an appropriate allocation of responsibilities between federal and state governments, so too should the precept of local control apply to the relationship between state and local governments. The power grab embodied by House Bill 722 clearly violates that principle.”

The bill established an August 28 deadline, prohibiting any increases to minimum wage past the state level after that date. In Kansas City, the City Council is just one vote away from beating that deadline and locally raising their own minimum wage. In St. Louis, the Board of Alderman has been arm-wrestling for more than a month on a similar measure to gradually increase the wage annually to an $11 an hour level in 2020.

Some lawmakers contend state law, regardless of HB 722’s fate, prohibits any increase. But leaders in both Kansas City and St. Louis appear ready to face a legal challenge on their authority and continue to move forward to do just that.

Activists and stakeholders quickly applauded the move on social media and shortly after, started releasing statements, calling the bill “misguided.:

“If a city or county sees a problem, it should be able to solve it through a local solution, especially if the state government won’t do anything about it,” said Lara Granich, Executive Director of Missouri Jobs With Justice. “The groundswell of support in Kansas City and St. Louis for raising the minimum wage, and strong leadership by community leaders, is a perfect example of good policy happening as Jefferson City politicians drag their feet.”

“I am very pleased about the Governor’s actions in restoring local control to our city officials. City government is closest to the people we all serve and should have wide discretion in crafting policies to improve the lives of our residents,” said Columbia Councilman Michael Trapp.

Last month, Springfield Mayor Robert L. Stephens and Springfield City Manager Greg Burris wrote, “We find it very ironic that a legislature which has taken a strong stand against Federal encroachment in State affairs apparently sees no conflict when they choose to interfere in the affairs of local governments.”