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Why the Minimum Wage in St. Louis Is Going ... Down

The minimum wage in St. Louis will revert to $7.70 an hour on Aug. 28, with Gov. Eric Greitens announcing on Friday that he will allow a bill blocking the city's increase to become law without his signature.

By Celeste Bott

The minimum wage in St. Louis will revert to $7.70 an hour on Aug. 28, with Gov. Eric Greitens announcing on Friday that he will allow a bill blocking the city's increase to become law without his signature.

When the Legislature sends the governor a bill, he has several options. He can sign it, veto it or take the middle course -- without action before a constitutional deadline, the bill automatically takes effect.

The bill in question bans local minimum wages, requiring all cities and municipalities in Missouri to stick to the statewide standard.

Minimum wage workers in St. Louis are making $10 an hour after winning a two-year legal fight against business groups who challenged a 2015 city ordinance authorizing an increase.

Under that city law, the wage was set to rise again in January to $11 an hour, then increase annually with inflation.

"It will kill jobs," Greitens said of the increase. "And despite what you hear from liberals, it will take money out of people's pockets."

Both workers and businesses alike now face a jarring change ahead. It's unclear whether many businesses as of Aug. 28 will seek to reduce pay to employees who have recently received increases.

It's a situation the Missouri House had sought to avoid by fast-tracking its version of the bill to the Senate in March, in the hopes it could be signed into law before a court's injunction on the increase was lifted in St. Louis. But the Senate didn't take up the bill until the final hours of the 2017 legislative session.

Greitens, who has clashed with senators numerous times since assuming office, said the uncertainty for businesses could have been avoided if they had "done their job on time."

His reasoning for not signing the bill outright? Those career politicians, Greitens said.

"Politicians in the Legislature could've come up with a timely solution to this problem. Instead, they dragged their feet for months," Greitens said in a statement. "Now, because of their failures, we have different wages across the state."

It's far more difficult to pass controversial legislation in the Missouri Senate than it is the House because individual senators on both sides of the aisle have the power to filibuster bills they don't like.

Senate Democrats managed to stall passage of the minimum-wage measure until the last day of session, when GOP leaders finally used a procedural move they often avoid to force a vote.

"I disapprove of the way politicians handled this," Greitens said. "That's why I won't be signing my name to their bill."

Not putting his signature on a bill his party championed is a cowardly move, said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis.

"Signing it would have shown the fact that he is heartless and that he really doesn't care about the working poor," Nasheed said. "So what he didn't want to do is sign a bill to take money out of the pockets of those who already have an increase, but still do so."

Democrats have pushed for an increase in the statewide minimum wage, but there's been no appetite for a broader hike from the GOP-led Legislature.

Nasheed contends that Greitens' decision will ultimately cost the state, because workers who may have had a chance at more independence through higher local minimum wages will remain reliant on Medicaid and food stamps.

Next steps could include putting a statewide minimum wage increase on the ballot through a citizen referendum, an avenue St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson has said she will explore.

(c)2017 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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