The Tacoma City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday to send a $12 minimum wage issue to the fall ballot. City Councilman David Boe voted against the issue, and Councilman Joe Lonergan was absent.
The issue would elevate the city’s lowest-paid workers to a $12 hourly wage by 2018, and would compete with another proposal placed on the ballot earlier this year via citizen petition that would raise the wage to $15 per hour in January 2016.
The council sat through several hours of testimony equally from business owners — who for the most part spoke against the $15 proposal — and those advocating for a higher minimum wage.
Councilman Anders Ibsen gave credit to the group 15 Now Tacoma, which collected signatures to place the $15 issue on the fall ballot.
“None of us wanted to do any of this, yet a group of citizens who brought this before us forced the issue,” Ibsen said. “That’s how democracy should work.”
Boe, though, said he would have preferred the $15 issue remain on the ballot without the council alternative.
“I don’t think this council is responsible for the wage inequality we have in this country, or that we don’t make things anymore,” Boe said. “… Those are far larger issues than we can address here.”
Some have criticized the confusing way the two issues will appear on the ballot, to which Mayor Marilyn Strickland agreed. She said she tried to work with the city’s legal department to find a way for the 15 Now issue and her issue to stand on their own.
“This is not some plot to confuse people. Voters should have choices that are clear to them,” Strickland said.
The ballot would first describe Proposition 1, which raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour immediately. Next would be the City Council’s alternative $12 measure, called 1B. Voters would then answer yes or no to this question: “Should either of these measures be enacted into law?” They would then be asked: “Regardless of whether you voted yes or no above, if one these measures is enacted, which one should it be? Measure No. 1 or Measure No. 1B?”
If a majority of voters pick “yes” on the first half of the question, then the item that receives the majority of votes on the second half of the question wins.
The Tacoma City Council also approved two other issues for the fall ballot, both of which would raise money to pay for street repairs in Tacoma. Together the issues would implement a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax, a property tax of 20 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, and an additional 1.5 percent tax on gross earnings for power, telephone and natural gas utilities.
The three tax increases would raise $175 million in 10 years. The city expects to attract another $150 million in state and federal grants with that money. The taxes would sunset after 10 years.
The City Council also approved amendments to those issues that require the city manager to craft annual reports to show what work the city completed with that tax money.