Politics & Government

Tacoma’s $15 wage initiative could be withdrawn, though unlikely

The Tacoma City Council has until July 6 to pass a citizen initiative to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 a hour or to send it to the ballot, according to the city attorney.

The deadline for action on Proposition 1, the 15 Now Tacoma proposal, falls just days after a city task force is due to issue its report on a possible alternative ballot measure. The City Council convened the 15-member panel earlier this month in response to concerns that Proposition 1 is too extreme.

The 15 Now proposal would raise the wage from the state’s minimum of $9.47 per hour to $15 almost immediately for those who work in Tacoma. The Pierce County auditor confirmed that the measure had enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot on June 4.

What if 15 Now Tacoma finds the task force’s eventual proposal acceptable? Technically the petition’s creator could ask the city to remove it from the ballot, said City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli.

Before the July 6 deadline, the initiative’s organizer could tell the city to withdraw the measure in a “formal communication,” Pauli said.

15 Now Tacoma has no formal leader. Mark Perry, who 15 Now members identified as a volunteer with the group, filed the ballot measure with the city.

“If the request to withdraw does not come from (Perry), we will have to evaluate the authority of the individual or group requesting the withdrawal,” Pauli wrote in an email Friday.

After July 6, the group could still ask the city to remove it. But the City Council would then have to pass another resolution removing the item from the ballot and then tell the county elections officials about it, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson said.

The council’s deadline for putting something on the ballot is Aug. 4. No set deadline exists for removing an item, but for practical purposes, the county would have to hear from the city soon after Aug. 4.

“We just print the ballots,” Anderson said. “… The city of Tacoma is going to have to watch the clock and be mindful of their meeting dates.”

Alan Stancliff, a 15 Now Tacoma volunteer, has not ruled out withdrawing the $15 wage issue from the November ballot if the task force comes up with an acceptable alternative by its deadline of June 30. But he said, “Don’t hold your breath.”

“If the Minimum Wage Task Force comes up with something that’s satisfactory, I’ll be delighted,” he said. “We feel a sense of obligation to the 5,000 people who signed the bloody thing (the petition to get a $15 minimum wage issue onto the ballot).”

In addition to sending the 15 Now proposal to the ballot, the council also could pass it as is. The city charter prohibits the council from changing laws passed by a vote of the people within two years of their passage. But the charter is silent on whether the council could pass the proposal as written and then amend it soon afterward, Pauli said.