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  August 11, 2016

City Councilman Will Withhold Potentially Deciding Vote on Baltimore's Minimum Wage

Carl Stokes says he's 'betwixt and between', will abstain from Monday's vote
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KIM BROWN: There's a flurry of lobbying here at city hall, all coming from both supporters and opponents of the 15 dollar minimum wage hike. Monday's vote in the city council only fell short of passage by one vote. Councilman Carl Stokes, representing District 12, voted to abstain, and we went inside to ask him whether or not he has made a decision as to which direction he will go.

STOKES: I said I wouldn't vote for the bill. So, it is likely I will do what I did this past Monday, which is abstain on the bill. My abstention, frankly, is a nod to my friends in labor and the working people. Before this bill I had a 100 percent voting record with labor and with working people.

On this particular bill, I feel strongly that we're at the wrong number at the wrong time. I think that there ought to be a number that is 11.50 or 12 dollars that we go to in a year or two, that we just jump to that number. But I think moving four or five dollars above the rest of the state so that we're out there by ourselves with a number, I think it's the wrong thing to do at this time. I think there'll be some consequences that we're either not able to predict or we're not looking at clearly as we talk about that.

NOOR: Well so to be clear, we're not going to be at 15 for another six years, until 2022.

STOKES: I understand that.

NOOR: And so–

STOKES: –But we're gunna move a dollar a year, a dollar a year, for the next six years. And I think that's, what is that tied to? That's picking a number without any indication of the economic factors will be during that time. I think we jump to a couple of dollars quickly, then we could tie that if we like, going forward, to an economic indicator such as the rate of inflation, such as, but I don't think that we should, you know, nobody else is doing that. And again, I hear what you're saying but I stand that we will be four to five dollars out and above everybody else.

NOOR: Um, So, you've said, you've touted your voting record with labor–


NOOR: Um, but the opposition to this minimum wage increase has happened all across the country from the business lobby. What kind of lobbying effort are they putting forth right now?

STOKES: I was already there before I heard from any business person. I'll be frank with you, I'm a business person, a former small business person. Yeah, but I'm getting less calls from business than I am from labor to be frank with you, but I am getting calls from both sides. And it's frankly all good.

I believe that we should quickly move from this poverty wage. The current minimum wage, it's a poverty wage. It currently is. There's no doubt about that. And I believe, and I like the goal of 15 dollars, I said all during the mayoral campaign that yeah, I like 15, let's move it to 15 as soon as we can. I don't think that it is the number we should hold out–

NOOR: –So can you explain, explain why, what concerns you about this stepped increase. Because, you know, it's been tried in Seattle most recently–

STOKES: –And you think it's done well?

NOOR: And, for example, in Santa Fe over one year they jumped it 65 percent, and the doomsday scenarios [crosstalk] the business lobby–

STOKES: [interceding] –Well, there will be no doomsday.

NOOR: Right, that puts forth, saying that businesses are going to leave, poor people will get priced out of work, people will be coming from out of the county, that hasn't happened. What has happened, what will happen, is nearly 100 thousand people will get lifted out of poverty wages. Won't this help address the serious problems in Baltimore?

STOKES: Well, 12 dollars will lift them out of poverty wages also. That's some three dollars more, approximately, than they have now–

NOOR: –For a single person, but a single mother of children, that's still poverty wages.

STOKES: Right. Absolutely right. So you can do, let me just stay in trouble. The communist, socialist way of doing this, and say everybody gets a wage, regardless of whether it's the work or the skill. You can do that. You can give everybody the same wage and say there's no incentive to earn more, to learn more, you can just everybody the same wage.

And that has another effect. It may be a longer lesson than we can have right here, but I can tell you that I know from my own experience as a business person, that oftentimes, not always, there are people who are making the same amount of money, who are getting the same paycheck every Friday, and that one person is busting their behind, and they're doing over and above, and the other person doesn't come to work, doesn't do this, doesn't do that, but they have this guarantee and they're getting the same dollar.

NOOR: If they're not showing up to work, they're not getting paid, right?


NOOR: If they're not showing up to work, they're not getting paid.

STOKES: Oh yeah. There are people who have protection, of, let me just say I've worked in schools, and I know teachers who are sensational and I know teachers who don't deliver.

NOOR: Well, that's with any profession, right?

STOKES: Yeah, you're making my point. You can only have one or the other. You say that they don't show, they don't get paid. They do get paid, that's the point. That every Friday they get the same paycheck, whether they're busting their behind or they're not. And it's a whole different conversation, but if you want to go there, then you can pair that when you say that–

Listen. I don't support it. As we speak. I think 15 is a place to go, and yeah I'm touting the fact that prior to this I've voted with them, labor that is, and working people, and I'm a part of I would call working people, and I'm not a wealthy individual, my salary is what it is here. Middle income I would say.

Having said that, I just feel very strongly that there may well be consequences. In the city of Baltimore, what we've done with with the businesses in our town is to nickel-and-dime them. We have by far the highest property tax anywhere in the state, by far. Two, two and a half, three times everybody else. 

What we have is a water bill that is crazy for residents and for property owners, businesses. What we have is a bottle tax that we've put on businesses and consumers. What we have is nickel-and-diming our businesses over and over and over again, and I just think we oughta back off, frankly.

Because what we ought to be doing instead, in concert with, is to be sure that the Baltimore businesses have money, that they can expand their business. Most business owners, small business owners, which is 83 percent of our business, and 9 out of 10 workers work for small businesses, 9 out of 10 in Baltimore, in Baltimore–

NOOR: –And so they're going to be exempt from this bill, so what supporters of the bill would also say, people that have studied this, they've said that when–

STOKES: People who study, study with a slant. Everybody does. [crosstalk] Ok, so you're gunna get, I'm sorry–

NOOR: [interceding] –There's no doubt in that. Right. Everybody's got their perspective.

STOKES: Right.

NOOR: But common sense would also dictate that when you give the poorest people more money–

STOKES: It juices the economy. [crosstalk] Didn't I, I've said that–

NOOR: [interceding] They're gunna be spending it, right?

STOKES: Of course, it juices the economy. It makes the economy stronger. Warren Buffet says, so it's not just [crosstalk] everybody else–

NOOR: [interceding] – So isn't that a way to also boost businesses, by giving people more money that they're gunna spend, I mean they're gunna spend it–

STOKES: –Yes, of course.

NOOR: Yeah.

STOKES: Yeah, of course. Yes the answer is yes. I don't disagree.

NOOR: And so the other point that I don't think has been raised, is that when you allow businesses, allow corporations to pay poverty wages, the taxpayer is still subsidizing, because the tax payer is paying for welfare, it's paying for food stamps, it's paying for social services, so it's still you know, it's either we're paying it or they're paying it.

STOKES: You're argument is absolutely correct. It's absolutely correct. It is. So, I still feel, at this point, we shouldn't go that far that quickly, without others, there should be a statewide or regional movement. That's what I feel. I feel that. I feel that we should get the 15, we should do it in a way that moves us all together. California, New York state. Seattle is an outlier here. I don't know what the results are frankly on Seattle. You talk about Santa Fe.

NOOR: Well, she's been working there.

BROWN: Well yes, we’ve been examining it, at least from the restaurant industry perspective.


BROWN: And so, in the immediate couple of months after the wage hike measure was enacted, there was a temporary, very brief slowdown in hiring, however after that hiring became more robust, and they've seen nearly 5 percent growth in hiring in the restaurant industry specifically, in Seattle. And other cities can point to similar outcomes. Why don't you think that will happen here?

STOKES: I don't know if it will happen here. I don't know that it will happen here. So, if you keep putting on the table that this has happened, then that's all the more incentive to do it. And I don't know that it happens, it has happened in Seattle, per what you said. I absolutely hear you, and obviously I believe what you just said.

So, I've said that more money in the pockets of the average worker juices the economy, it does. It makes the economy stronger. The more people have, the average worker has to spend, the better economy. It means nothing that people are making over 100 thousand a year, because they've bought everything they need to buy, frankly, other than the yacht. But it does juice the economy and things will theoretically get stronger.


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