Friday, July 6, 2018

Stuckart: You "can't discount" local businesses struggling with minimum wage increases

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2018 at 1:59 PM

click to enlarge City Council President Ben Stuckart's position on the minimum wage is... complicated. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
Daniel Walters photo
City Council President Ben Stuckart's position on the minimum wage is... complicated.

Washington state passed a state-wide initiative in 2016 that gradually ratchets up the minimum wage to 13.50 by the year 2020.

It was an initiative that City Council President Ben Stuckart supported, despite concerns from business owners that it would be a disaster.

And today? With Washington state's minimum wage at $11.50 and climbing, the economy is booming, including in Idaho-Washington border communities like Spokane. Our unemployment rate, as of May of this year, has fallen to 5.2 percent.

But instead of saying, 'I told you so', Stuckart took a different tack in an interview last week.

He suggested that many small business owners have told him they genuinely are having a tough time with the minimum wage increases. And Stuckart says he believes them. He says their experience is important to take into consideration when we talk about the minimum wage.

"I talk to my friends that run pizza parlors and bars and burger joints. I have a lot of friends who are small business people who talk to me about how the minimum wage increase is affecting them. And how it's a real issue," Stuckart says. "And these are people who are very supportive of me and who I am. But they like to tell me their real stories of how it affects their business and how they can't hire people even though they get busier because people have more money."

"We can all just say we're going to fight for $15 an hour," Stuckart continues. "But when you sit with a business person when they're feeling pain, you can't discount that pain."

He says that, as a public official, he has a duty to listen to those concerns.

"Some activist can spend all of their time shouting 'Fight for $15!' all they want," Stuckart says. "But me, if I'm making those decisions, and I hear the pain that small business owners in our town — numerous of them — are going through because of the rise of the minimum wage, I don't feel that I have a leg to stand on to just say, '$15 an hour no matter what.'"

He says he talks to small business owners, like those of Pacific Avenue Pizza, the Elk and David’s Pizza, and says he's sympathetic to their plight.

"I know enough of them, that everything about them — their values align with mine, their hearts are in the right place, and they're just telling it like it is and where the pain spots are," Stuckart says. "You can't discount that. You have to listen to that, and be aware of that and not be so adamant in your positions."

Stuckart's position on the minimum wage has long been a complicated one. And it still is.

Back in 2015, Stuckart adamantly disputed accusations that he wanted to increase Spokane's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"I don’t think the $15 minimum wage is appropriate," he told the Inlander then. "I believe honestly that $15 is too high for Spokane.”

But two years later, during his brief run for Congress, Stuckart endorsed a federal $15 minimum wage, according to the Stranger profile.

Answering questions from the Spokane GOP, he defended minimum wage increases.

“I support increasing the minimum wage because I support what all of the studies that I’ve read and all the comparisons have shown,” Stuckart said.

He noted the large quantity of minimum wage research that suggested that a gradual minimum wage increase had minimal impacts on overall employment.

“I support the minimum wage increase, because since January [2017] the economy in the city of Spokane has actually been improving faster than other areas, and part of that is the sick leave and minimum wage laws are not killing our businesses,” Stuckart continued. “But I am cognizant of the small business owner who has to sit and night and balance their books."

Today, he still says he wouldn't oppose a $15 an hour minimum wage — but only if it's implemented uniformly nationwide.

He still does not support pushing for a $15 minimum wage in Spokane and says he does not plan to push for another minimum wage increase locally as he runs for mayor.

Either way, he says, it's important to tie minimum wage increases to inflation, allowing wages to rise gradually instead of sudden leaps.

"I just think we need to do a better job in the future of indexing it every year so it's not big hits on businesses," Stuckart says. "And then we need to be careful of not discounting people's real-life experiences as we move forward."

The minimum wage, he suggests, is not the only tool you can use to fight income inequality.

"I try to talk about income inequality a lot. But then people go immediately to '$15 an hour minimum wage is the solution,'" Stuckart says. "I think there's probably other solutions we should be looking at."

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...