Robert Vick for TX-SD22 Robert Vick for TX-SD22

Robert Vick

for Texas Senate

Waco and the Minimum Wage

October 8, 2020

Congratulations to the members of the Waco City Council and the McLennan County Commissioners Court on approving; 1) the incentives for Texas Meter & Device, contingent of their preserving the 60 local manufacturing positions and continuance of the $12/hour minimum wage, and 2) raising the wage threshold for future grant applicants to pay a $15/hour minimum wage, and an overall average wage of $17.50/hour.

This is what forward thinking governance looks like. The Economic Development Corporation has produced recognizable and measurable benefits to Waco and McLennan County for years. But these stop-gap measures don’t go far enough. And the reason for that is contained in the Texas Labor Code, the state law that reads, “…the minimum wage provided by this chapter supersedes a wage established in an ordinance, order, or charter provision governing wages in private employment…”

In other words, even though the urban cost of living is higher in Waco, the City Council cannot mandate a minimum wage in excess of $7.25 per hour. The solution lies with the state.

There are many examples of recent state legislatures wresting local regulatory control from cities. Among those local regulations now voided by the state are; local cable and wireless franchise fees, annexation powers, real property tax rates, employee sick leave requirements, Uber/Lyft ridesharing services, plastic bags, and on and on…

The state’s minimum wage restrictions are just another example of our lost local control, but it is perhaps the most egregious in its effects on our essential workers. These are the low-paid workers we have learned we can’t live without; grocery clerks, cleaning staffs, and the like. Recognize that many of these workers supplement their wages with public assistance – the taxpayers, in effect, subsidizing their employers. No wonder businesses howl when minimum wages are hiked – they lose that subsidy and have to pay a wage commensurate with the true value to their workers.

Another insidious effect of the current model where employers pay only about half of the living wage their workers require is the stifling of these workers’ ambitions. As they develop more and better skills any merit increase in pay is met with a decrease in the public assistance they receive. For every promotion, they receive a net zero increase in their compensation. You don’t have to know a lot about human nature to see that we are disincentivizing our minimum wage workers to work their way out of poverty. This is not how capitalism is supposed to work.

So what’s the fix?

First of all, the “fix” requires state legislative action. No city or county government can address the issue of the working poor without the legislature nullifying the section of Texas Labor Code prohibiting municipalities from setting a local minimum wage higher than the state minimum.

To that end, we need change in the legislature. Currently the state House of Representatives is nearing parity between Democrats and Republicans (the party that has been attacking local control).

But as we see in Washington, the Democratic House passes a bill and the Republican Senate refuses to take it up. Period.

A similar scenario applies in Texas as long as the Republicans control 60% of the Senate vote. However, in this election, if one Senate seat swaps to a Democrat, then every bill passed by the House MUST make it to floor debate in the Senate…and a vote. This is how we make legislative changes. Each Senator’s vote is recorded and that means We The People can hold each of them accountable for those votes.

To avoid that Washington gridlock scenario in Austin after this November election (after which we hope the Texas Democrats have the votes to pass their bills) we need to break the Texas Senate supermajority. In our Senate the rules are such that no bills must be debated if the President of the Senate has the votes to keep them tabled. That supermajority requires that 60% of the Senators can table the bill.

So the road to increasing the minimum wage in Waco and McLennan County runs through the Senate, and that is why I am running to be your Texas State Senator for this district. I pledge that in the Senate I will introduce legislation to return local control to our elected officials – officials that know our circumstances.

They know the cost of living here. They know what the property rates should be here. They know what franchise fees cable and telephone companies should pay for use of our city poles and infrastructure here. And they know how to balance the local citizens, business and labor needs so we can eliminate the “working poor” and incentivize our labor force to develop more and better skills and improve the economy for ALL the citizens.

Photo Credits include: Ryan Quintal @ Unsplash.com and The Great State of Texas