By James Briggs
Hundreds of Indianapolis municipal employees are about to become eligible for raises.
The City-County Council on Monday passed a proposal that sets a $13 "living wage" for city and county staff members. There are 365 workers earning between $9.13 per hour and $12.98 per hour, who will be eligible for pay increases.
The proposal had been introduced in May as a $13 minimum wage for city and county workers. But council members changed the language to "living wage" to let some employees opt out of pay hikes that might push them above the threshold of qualifying for government assistance. The proposal passed, 22-2.
Council members who championed the proposal, led by City-County Council President Maggie Lewis and fellow Democratic council members Zach Adamson, Vop Osili and Leroy Robinson, say the $13 minimum wage will send a message to companies that receive government tax incentives, as well as area businesses that pay workers less.
"Thirteen dollars an hour is a baseline and this is what we as a city need to be doing to lead by example," Osili said. "We should not have poverty wages in our own house."
City and county workers will be eligible for raises starting Jan. 1.
The proposal's passage came after weeks of back-and-forth discussions between council members and Mayor Joe Hogsett's office. Hogsett has said he would not support the proposal if it prevented him from introducing a balanced budget. A $13 wage floor is estimated to cost the city more than $450,000 a year.
But Hogsett on Monday introduced a $1.1 billion budget to the council that he heralded as the city's first balanced budget in a decade. City Controller Fady Qaddoura signaled that there is room in the mayor's budget for the new minimum wage.
"We think, at this point, we can absorb the fiscal impact," he said.
Council members debated whether the proposal should be called a living wage or baseline wage. Janice McHenry, a Republican, said baseline is a more appropriate term.
"I would much rather we call it a baseline instead of a living wage, because what's a living wage to you and what's a living wage to me is two entirely different things," she said.
But Lewis, the council president, who rarely comments on proposals during meetings, said raising pay for workers is all that matters.
"We've been having this conversation since 2008," Lewis said. "Call it a living wage, a baseline, whatever you want. A raise is a raise, and it's about time we take care of the people that do the business for us."
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