Sweet Home Alabama - Where the minimum wage must be $7.25
February 28, 2016 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Many cities have either thinking about or have been upping their minimum wages as their residents have struggled to keep up with the inflated cost of living that living near large urban centers. Birmingham, AL was the latest city to plan to up its minimum wage to $10.10 last week.

The Alabama state legislature immediately stripped away the ability for Alabama cities to set their own minimum wages.
posted by Talez (62 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can't even codify poverty. I pay my student workers better then that.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:35 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, it's States Rights, not "cities rights" or "local control" or "self-determination."
Like in Texas and North Carolina and more.

If you thought States Rights meant "self-determination," you got scammed.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:35 PM on February 28, 2016 [63 favorites]


If you thought States Rights meant "self-determination," you got scammed.

But this seems like states rights vs. cities’ rights question, yeah? (or, to quote one of the no voters mentioned, “There may be a time my district needs something none of y’all understand. Does that mean you’ll come in and prevent that?”) I mean, Seattle upped its minimum wage to $15 despite that not being the case for the rest of the state. This kind of power surely isn’t uniform. What are the precedents within Alabama state law for this?
posted by Going To Maine at 5:45 PM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


But this seems like states rights vs. cities’ rights question, yeah?

More of a class warfare question, really.
posted by mhoye at 5:51 PM on February 28, 2016 [26 favorites]


Think globally, act locally.

Except in Alabama.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:53 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


This kind of thing has been going on in Wisconsin for a while. The state legislature forbade cities from having residency requirements for city workers, and from imposing certain kinds of regulations on landlords. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau provides a list of the 100 or so restrictions the Wisconsin state legislature has imposed on local and municipal governments since 2011.

I've talked to city officials about this, and it seems pretty clear that local ordinances have no force against state law; the state can override city law as much as it wants to. (Or at least that's what I was told; since the Wisconsin Supreme Court has taken up the residency requirement, there must be more to it than I understood.)
posted by escabeche at 5:59 PM on February 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


What is the argument for states rights if they concede that more local control isn't always/often better? If they believe a smaller group can better represent the needs of people in that group, then why does that fall apart when you go smaller than the state level? Is state power the magic sweet spot where everything's all hunky dory? I just don't get what they're trying to say because it seems that deciding which powers to leave where is based solely on whether they think they can use it for their goals.
posted by downtohisturtles at 6:02 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whatever it is, I'm sure it has nothing whatsoever to do with corruption at the state level.

You can quote me on that.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:08 PM on February 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


This is a good idea. As everyone in the United States is well aware, Alabama is the powerhouse of our nation, the great stronghold of the most mighty force in economic development the world has ever seen. Alabamans, who have never had a minimum wage higher than the national minimum wage, have extraordinarily high levels of employment, and extraordinarily low levels of poverty. It would be a tragic shame for a higher minimum wage in Birmingham to ruin all that by stalling that fine state's indescribably magnificent economy. One wouldn't want the good people in Alabama, who currently enjoy unparalleled levels of prosperity, to fall to the depressingly desperate straits of destitution one finds in certain quarters of the unfortunate cities in other places which have enacted higher minimum wages, like Portland, Seattle, Berkeley, and Santa Fe.
posted by koeselitz at 6:15 PM on February 28, 2016 [51 favorites]


So... Alabama is a mess. More than you might think, even. The basic idea behind the structure of the state constitution is to keep majority-black counties from governing themselves. The Wikipedia article does a pretty good job outlining the ridiculousness.
posted by supercres at 6:17 PM on February 28, 2016 [41 favorites]


500 sq ft apartment rental rate=1 week minimum wage. By law. Scale accordingly.
That'll get the landlords (to whom every wage increase goes to anyway) behind the federal minimum wage increase.
Problem solved.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:22 PM on February 28, 2016 [38 favorites]


What are the precedents within Alabama state law for this?

The precedent of "Fuck those people... you know, thooose people..."
posted by Etrigan at 6:22 PM on February 28, 2016 [25 favorites]


I guess in Birmingham they still love the Governor. (Boo! Boo! Boo!)
posted by Lyme Drop at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


That Wikipedia article is fascinating (and horrifying).
At 310,296 words the document is 12 times longer than the average state constitution, 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution, and is the longest still-operative constitution anywhere in the world. The English version of the Constitution of India, the longest national constitution, is about 117,369 words long, a third of the length of Alabama's.
There are a bunch of laws in there that are forbidden from being enforced because of superseding Federal laws, but the Alabamans seem to be taking their own sweet time reversing them. Hint: race seems to be involved in a lot of them.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


One more bit on the Wisconsin thing... The state has a special trick to allow it to create laws that only effect the city of Milwaukee. Milwaukee, under state law, is classified as a first class city, and the state passes laws that only effect cities in the state classified as first class cities. Milwaukee is the only first class city in the state (and whenever the definition might start to include another growing city, the definition is changed).
posted by drezdn at 6:34 PM on February 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


IIRC, the term usually used for cities setting their own rules is "local control."
posted by drezdn at 6:36 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Koch and company only want to have to buy state legislatures they don't want to have to buy every City Council so it's pretty much inevitable that we see more and more states rolling back home rule when it comes to any sort of progressive ordinances.
posted by vuron at 6:37 PM on February 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


On the other hand, isn't a strong(er) federal government part of most every Progressive platform?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:43 PM on February 28, 2016


It's not local control it's called home rule, some states have full home rule for counties and municipalities, states without home rule typically use Dillon's Rule to determine the boundaries of limited home rule.

In home rule states the cities can govern themselves as long as they respect the state and federal constitution.
posted by vuron at 6:45 PM on February 28, 2016


On the other hand, isn't a strong(er) federal government part of most every Progressive platform?

The federal government is already strong, the issue is how it exercises those muscles.
posted by rhizome at 6:47 PM on February 28, 2016


I think most progressives are statist in general but there is generally an acceptance that some things are appropriately handled at the state and local level rather than federal level. Yadda yadda laboratories of Democracy, etc,etc.

Yeah civil rights should not be devolved down to state and local level but other regulations can be effectively handled at local level as long as they don't impede interstate commerce, etc, etc.
posted by vuron at 6:48 PM on February 28, 2016


On the other hand, isn't a strong(er) federal government part of most every Progressive platform?

Mostly to stop racist and corrupt state governments from selling out their vulnerable citizenry. But then we get disasters like Bush who start to sell out the entire fucking country so it's a double edged sword.
posted by Talez at 6:51 PM on February 28, 2016 [12 favorites]


500 sq ft apartment rental rate=1 week minimum wage. By law. Scale accordingly.

Awesome. In Southern California beach cities this would work out to approx $50-60/hour, as my last apartment was $1100 for 244 sq. ft.
posted by msjen at 6:58 PM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sweet home, Alabama
posted by Postroad at 7:15 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


While the specifics of this case are unfortunate and wrong, in general terms I don't understand how or why a city should have the right to set minimum wages, this is something that surely should be set at the State or even national level. I mean, what would I know, I'm an Aussie, and the more I learn of US governance systems, the less I like or understand, but I would have expected a local government area would be concerned with parking, municipal planning, etc, not with labour laws.
posted by wilful at 7:19 PM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


For smaller government, except for when they're not.
posted by nofundy at 7:19 PM on February 28, 2016


While the specifics of this case are unfortunate and wrong, in general terms I don't understand how or why a city should have the right to set minimum wages, this is something that surely should be set at the State or even national level. I mean, what would I know, I'm an Aussie, and the more I learn of US governance systems, the less I like or understand, but I would have expected a local government area would be concerned with parking, municipal planning, etc, not with labour laws.

The Australian system makes sense for Australia because Australia still has a strong union base which makes the whole regularly scheduled determination of the minimum wage a more feasible system.

In the US the ability for cities to override federal and state minimum wage is so us progressives can try and help poor people in places where we do have local control in spite of the state and the federal governments often doing sweet fuck all.
posted by Talez at 7:31 PM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


In the US the ability for cities to override federal and state minimum wage is so us progressives can try and help poor people in places where we do have local control in spite of the state and the federal governments often doing sweet fuck all.

Talex, that's not really my point. As a matter of good governance, it's really quite stupid to allow a municipality to have anything to do with labour laws. If the shoe was on the other foot and there was a regressive Mayor reducing labour protections, this would be an equally bad thing. I cannot think of a good argument in principle to allow governance of this issue to happen at this level.
posted by wilful at 7:39 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's completely terrible governance but if we tried to fix the core problem of the system we'd never have anything. The most expensive places to live generally have liberal populations that are amenable to higher living wages. It's a hack on a hack of a bad system but we can only do what we can.
posted by Talez at 7:43 PM on February 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


OK I have fallen down the rabbit hole of municipal home rule in Wisconsin, where it seems like the actual laws about this are a matter of unresolved constitutional dispute. And our constitution is a lot simpler than Alabama's!
posted by escabeche at 7:46 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Local government generally can't reduce labor protections (or other laws) below the standards required by state and federal law, they can only get more restrictive.

And there is an argument to be made that the minimum wage should be higher in more expensive cities and lower in cheaper parts of the state. A state like California or New York has some pretty huge differences in costs of living across the state, and the distances involved are well beyond even an unreasonable commuting distance.
posted by zachlipton at 7:48 PM on February 28, 2016 [14 favorites]


in general terms I don't understand how or why a city should have the right to set minimum wages, this is something that surely should be set at the State or even national level.

It's a minimum. Saying that cities (or states, or whatever) shouldn't be able to raise the minimum is like saying that companies shouldn't be able to pay more than the minimum wage.
posted by Etrigan at 7:52 PM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


The Wikipedia article does a pretty good job outlining the ridiculousness.

Wow.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:54 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


One more bit on the Wisconsin thing... The state has a special trick to allow it to create laws that only effect the city of Milwaukee.

The "first class city" trick has been used in Michigan for a long time now -- the problem is that the equivalent level (that only affected Detroit) was set at 750,000, and Detroit fell under that at the last Census. The state legislature has been busily ignoring the issue for the last two legislative sessions.
posted by Etrigan at 7:55 PM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Saying that cities (or states, or whatever) shouldn't be able to raise the minimum is like saying that companies shouldn't be able to pay more than the minimum wage.

No, that's a pretty dumb analogy. A municipality can pay its own employees whatever it wants, just like a private company, but creating laws is a very different thing indeed.
posted by wilful at 7:55 PM on February 28, 2016


(apologies to Talez for typo with name - edit window passed)
posted by wilful at 7:56 PM on February 28, 2016


Pennsylvania has that hack too, where "city of the first class" means Philadelphia and "city of the second class" means Pittsburgh.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:02 PM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


but creating laws is a very different thing indeed.

Yes, and it is a thing that governments do. What is it about wages that makes them too much for a city to regulate within its borders? How are cities somehow less qualified to decide "Here's what we think a human being should make in exchange for labor in our jurisdiction" than are states or countries?
posted by Etrigan at 8:04 PM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Why is the US bombing and droning far-flung places like Yemen when there are so many extremist fundamentalists in Alabama who are a direct threat to the lives and freedom of American citizens?
posted by grounded at 8:07 PM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


One of the concepts of the relationship between levels of governments in the US is that the lower level of government can be more strict than the government able it, but not less so. Example: If the federal government establishes a regulation, the state can set one more strict, but not less so. And if a state sets a regulation, a municipality can set one more strict, but not less so.
The feds set the minimum wage at $7.25, a state can set one at $10 and a city can set it at $15.
posted by tommyD at 8:10 PM on February 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


How are cities somehow less qualified to decide "Here's what we think a human being should make in exchange for labor in our jurisdiction" than are states or countries?

So you withdraw your silly analogy... but if I can throw in a counter one, why doesn't Birmingham set its own defence policy? Or print its own money? No, we can surely agree that there are appropriate levels of government for policy interventions. And it seems self-evident that costs to businesses rise when they're faced with wildly diverse sets of rules across different locations. Any small chain store that was operating across Alabama and only paying minimum wage, whatever that was, would have to negotiate a whole set of employment contracts, store by store, and this would be a right pain in the arse and inefficient. Where does it stop? Allowable breaks? Overtime leading? Required rest periods for truck drivers?

Don't get me wrong, I think a minimum wage closer to Australia's (federally set) of ~$17 would be far fairer, I'm merely arguing over appropriate government interventions.
posted by wilful at 8:13 PM on February 28, 2016


One more bit on the Wisconsin thing... The state has a special trick to allow it to create laws that only effect the city of Milwaukee

The thing is, Van Gilder vs. Madison (1936), which is still precedent, says (if I understand correctly)

"If the state legislation affects only classes of cities, it is subordinate to the city legislation"

i.e. writing legislation that affects only first class cities violates the uniformity clause in the state constitution.
posted by escabeche at 8:22 PM on February 28, 2016


So you withdraw your silly analogy...

Not at all.

but if I can throw in a counter one, why doesn't Birmingham set its own defence policy?

Because a defense policy is not the same thing as a minimum wage.

And it seems self-evident that costs to businesses rise when they're faced with wildly diverse sets of rules across different locations.

Yes, that is absolutely the case. To which I reply: Oh. Fucking. Well. Or possibly: Too. Fucking. Bad.

If a business is large enough to be employing people in different cities, then that business is large enough to pay someone to ensure that you adhere to the laws of those different cities. Just like if a business is large enough to be employing people in different countries, then it's large enough to pay someone to ensure that you adhere to the laws of those different countries. Is it "inefficient"? Possibly. See above re O.F.W./T.F.B.

Where does it stop?

Somewhere farther along your slippery slope than whether it's "appropriate" for a municipality to set a wage floor.
posted by Etrigan at 8:22 PM on February 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


I understand your position wilful but keep in mind the US has a long (and difficult) relationship between municipal self-rule and states rights.

So in general there is a general acceptance than local ordinances can place additional burdens on residents to achieve a common good.

This is why there are generally lots of zoning restrictions in municipalities than don't exist in most unincorporated townships, etc. These are restrictions on local property rights that can constitute an economic burden on private land ownership, etc. And of course you can get into all the potential uses of eminent domain for economic development, etc.

Basically my understanding about the idea on how a municipality can have a higher than the state or federal minimum wage law is that the state and federal level represent the floor of acceptable but it's always possible (at least in home rule states) for a municipality to place an additional burden on contracts within their confines. Mandatory minimum wage is a contract provision and is thereby something that a municipality could potentially set just like Obama can raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to a higher than federal level.
posted by vuron at 8:22 PM on February 28, 2016


would have to negotiate a whole set of employment contracts, store by store

Many businesses have to negotiate employment contracts employee by employee. What's your point?
posted by soundguy99 at 8:24 PM on February 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


Any small chain store that was operating across Alabama and only paying minimum wage, whatever that was, would have to negotiate a whole set of employment contracts, store by store, and this would be a right pain in the arse and inefficient.

That's a fair argument when it comes to many forms of regulation, because yes, it can be complicated if a business has to comply with a lot of different rules in different locations. But the minimum wage is a pretty easy one to handle differences between cities. Any payroll software is capable of understanding that employees get paid different amounts. It even works out in the somewhat ridiculous case where two pretzel stores in the same mall are subject to different minimum wages. This particular requirement is not so difficult to handle. Their operations don't grind to a halt if they give one employee a raise without changing everyone else's pay.

Other things a business may have to contend with if it operates in more than one city: different sales tax rates; different property tax rates; different vendors for stuff like garbage disposal, water, power, gas; different building codes; different health inspectors. They manage.
posted by zachlipton at 8:28 PM on February 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


it's always possible (at least in home rule states) for a municipality to place an additional burden on contracts within their confines. Mandatory minimum wage is a contract provision and is thereby something that a municipality could potentially set just like Obama can raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to a higher than federal level.

Wisconsin is a home rule state, at least on paper. Section 104 of our state statute says

"The legislature finds that the provision of a minimum wage that is uniform throughout the state is a matter of statewide concern and that the enactment of a minimum wage ordinance by a city, village, town, or county would be logically inconsistent with, would defeat the purpose of, and would go against the spirit of this chapter. Therefore, this chapter shall be construed as an enactment of statewide concern for the purpose of providing a minimum wage that is uniform throughout the state."

This kind of language is meant to establish that the state law overrides any municipal claim and has generally been held by courts to do so.
posted by escabeche at 8:53 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


wilful: "Any small chain store that was operating across Alabama and only paying minimum wage, whatever that was, would have to negotiate a whole set of employment contracts, store by store, and this would be a right pain in the arse and inefficient."

Or the company could just meet the aggregate minimum state wide. Easy Peasy.

Besides, people getting minimum wage aren't negotiating anything as they are already getting paid the least the law would allow. The whole point of minimum wage is to prevent people from "negotiating" a lower wage.
posted by Mitheral at 9:32 PM on February 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


wilful: “Don't get me wrong, I think a minimum wage closer to Australia's (federally set) of ~$17 would be far fairer, I'm merely arguing over appropriate government interventions.”

Hrm. I really think this is a case where the institutions of the United States are remarkably different from Australia's – although of course I am not Australian, and know very little about your constitutional structure.

Still, it seems worth emphasizing what has been mentioned briefly in this thread: the Constitution of the state of Alabama was specifically and explicitly designed to enact what the authors called "white supremacy" on the state. As the President of the Constitutional Convention of Alabama put it in 1901:
And what is it that we want to do? Why it is within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State. This is our problem, and we should be permitted to deal with it, unobstructed by outside influences, with a sense of our responsibilities as citizens and our duty to posterity.
Alabama is not alone in this. There are many states in the US that were founded on the same principle: in contravention of Federal laws and intentions, these states sought to forcibly repress and drive out their black citizens, prevent them from voting, prevent them from living full lives, and most of all prevent them from sharing the privileges and distinctions white people enjoyed.

In short: in the United States, the individual states (the largest districts into which the nation is divided) are historically the least democratically and least justly governed of the bodies of our government. The federal government is much more democratic; this was, in fact, the central lesson and outcome of our civil war, that the federal government is prior to and more democratically determined than the state governments.

But the federal government governs a positively vast swath of land; and it doesn't make sense for them to determine every aspect of life. So it makes sense for individual municipalities to determine things like labor law and minimum wages. And it makes sense to say that state governments are very often autocratic groups of white men high-handedly attempting to determine everything for everybody else without any right to do so – because that is what they have been very often since 1860, when they decided without any vote or say-so from the people they were supposed to be governing that they'd like to enter into rebellion against the federal government, just because they could.

I'm not sure if that's how it is in Australia, but something tells me it's at least a little different.
posted by koeselitz at 10:00 PM on February 28, 2016 [9 favorites]




wilful - cities in the US have their own police forces and tax systems. They are already far more governmentally powerful than Australian cities and it is bizarre that anyone would try to draw the line at setting a minimum wage rather than any of the far more aggressive powers they already have.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:48 PM on February 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


.Seattle upped its minimum wage to $15 despite that not being the case for the rest of the state

Don't worry, our friendly backwards-ass Republicans are working against that - http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/lawmaker-proposes-striking-down-local-minimum-wage-laws/
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:50 PM on February 28, 2016


And here we have Idaho.
posted by gamera at 10:58 PM on February 28, 2016


Well, one of the problems these kinds of disputes (foul-ups?) raises is that the US does not have proportional representation at either the state or federal level and the problem is likely to get worse. I believe somewhere around 2012, the US population passed a tipping point where over 50% of its population lived in an urban area. That is likely to increase both due to changes in the global economy and due to declining oil reserves. However, we don't have proportional representation of our urban population. Looking at my home state, 2/3 of its population of 10 million people live in the urbanized middle of the state. However, when you look at the state representative map, you don't find that 2/3 of the districts occur in those areas. To have proportional representation to the urban population, there would have to be 80 out of 120 districts clustered in the center. So, in the last few elections over 50% of the population voted for Democratic representatives, but we have a solidly Republican state government and mostly Republican representatives. Some of that is gerrymandering (I live in NC's infamous District 12, which is about to be redrawn because it is the most gerrymandered district in the US), but some of it is just the district maps across the US disproportionately favor rural populations. As we face more and more cultural polarization, this is going to build up more and more pressure.
posted by Slothrop at 4:38 AM on February 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


I really think this is a case where the institutions of the United States are remarkably different from Australia's

It's also a case where the basic population structure of the US is extremely different and shows a lot more variance. There are states (CA, TX) whose population is greater than that of all of Australia. Greater LA itself is actually in the same ballpark as all of Australia in terms of population (18M vs 23M), and the population of NYC exceeds NSW (the NY metropolitan region is comparable to all of Australia also, at 23M). These are extreme examples but just as a practical matter, it doesn't seem so surprising to me that in the US one would end up with more levels of governmental hierarchy that have real power.
posted by advil at 6:49 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Y'know, my previous comment was unnecessarily dismissive, and I apologize. zachlipton put it better in the very next comment.

I really think this is a case where the institutions of the United States are remarkably different from Australia's – although of course I am not Australian, and know very little about your constitutional structure.

koeselitz raises a good point here - I've encountered a lot of non-Americans who have a hard time really getting their head around the extent to which American is legally, culturally, and practically small pockets of individuals who agree to band together for certain limited purposes while retaining as much autonomy as possible. States join to become a nation, counties join to become states, cities and towns join to become counties, property owners band together to form cities and towns. It's been this way, more or less, since the beginning, it is essentially baked into our culture and laws. For all the supposed power of the Federal government, on a daily basis most of us are dealing with local laws and regulations, which can change drastically within a few feet, moving from one governmental entity to another.

So I can see how this seems bonkers to non-Americans (it often seems bonkers to us), but in practice every business that does business more than like 100 feet from their front door has figured out how to deal with this, from the Ford Motor Company down to my plumber, who works in a dozen different cities and towns contained within the greater metropolitan area I live in.

So, then, postulating that individual cities choosing to set their own minimum wage is some kind of intrusive government tactic that will prevent businesses from growing is essentially refuted by the world we live in. For good or ill, in many ways our modern world was created by American companies who had to deal with a huge number of variations in rules and regulations in the different places they did business in America - they dealt with it and grew and moved on. In other words, "costs to businesses rise when they're faced with wildly diverse sets of rules across different locations" is a solved problem. It may not be the most efficient, or provide the most good for the greatest number of people, but it certainly hasn't prevented American companies from, well, dominating the world. (Albeit dominating different industries at different times.)


The other thing about this situation that seems odd to Americans is that often in similar situations it's the other way 'round - the free-marketers (usually conservatives/Republicans) are in favor of smaller government entities having lots of leeway in setting economic policies, because Free Market. If City X wants to raise the minimum wage, then City Y can go ahead and not do that, and offer Company Z a corporate tax break, and so Company Z builds their new headquarters in City Y and brings jobs in to the city, and, hey, "Free Market" at work and the bleeding-heart minimum-wage-raising liberal cities lose out. (Home rule in the US has come under attack in recent years, but mostly I think for non-economic reasons, more social conservative reasons (gun control, or allowing "white flight" for city employees, for example.)) It's the state of Alabama that's going for the IN-appropriate government intervention, at least by the economic principles supposedly held by the Republican majority in the legislature. (IOW, Republican hypocrisy strikes again.)
posted by soundguy99 at 6:50 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


No one locally will be surprised to find that the bill was introduced by a member of the Alabama House of Representatives that hails from "The Tiny Kingdom" Mountain Brook, Alabama which is where most of the old money lives in the Birmingham metro area. Put in context, the median income in Birmingham proper is around $32K and in Mt Brook it's almost $100K larger at $130K.
posted by ndfine at 10:36 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


One thing that sets America apart from many other countries is the fact that its federal government started out as intentionally weak. For the first century or so after the Constitution, the federal government still had very little power to compel states to do anything. The famous protections in the Bill of Rights bound only the federal government, not state governments — hence states were free to restrict speech, establish an official state religion, or what-have-you, as long as they were not enjoined from doing so by their own state constitution. Only in the 20th century did SCOTUS start applying the Bill of Rights to the states — the prevailing rationale is that the 14th Amendment made this possible by forbidding “any State [to] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law[.]”

So even though the Bill of Rights has been in effect since 1791, not until 1947 was it confirmed by SCOTUS that a state was not allowed to establish a religion. Not until 1937 was it held that a state could not bar the right of assembly. And so on.

The point isn't necessarily that states were routinely violating the Bill of Rights in the 19th century (though I'm sure they were); the point is that government in the US has never been a top-down affair. The Constitution, by default, is permissive toward the states; there's only a blacklist (here are things you cannot do) instead of a whitelist (here are the only things you are authorized to do). And most states have a similar relationship between themselves and their political subdivisions, whose exact structure varies from state to state.

Most of the expansion of the federal government's scope happened in the 20th century, mainly given to it by judges who recognized that those powers were necessary in order for the feds to keep the promises made in the Bill of Rights. Aside from what is specifically mentioned in the Constitution, most of what the federal government does in practice is attacked by someone (usually the tea party these days) as outside their mandate.

Of the cities that have passed their own minimum wage laws: some of them probably have done so because they recognize that cost of living is higher in their city than in other areas of the state. Some of them are stuck in a dysfunctional relationship (liberal urban area vs. the other conservative parts of the state) and are implementing municipally the sort of things that they genuinely feel should be state or federal mandates.

I think the size of the nation is ultimately to blame. If the US were the size of, say, Ohio, we could govern ourselves more logically. We could make the political chain of command (so to speak) more uniform. But if we'd started out that way we wouldn't be the size we are today. Expansion was very easy in part because the feds could many of the costs of expansion to the first batch of people eager to settle in a new place. Then they'd self-organize and eventually petition for statehood. That doesn't work without a large amount of self-rule.

Of course, we aren't a frontier anymore, and it's taken us a while to learn a particular lesson: a Bill of Rights without an enforcement mechanism is mere puffery. Without the feds being the adult in the room, states are able to undercut one another to see who can be most “business-friendly” at the expense of meaningful worker protections. Embarrassingly, this is nowhere near a settled question.

It's telling that “states’ rights,” as a rallying cry, tends to be embraced only by people who want to continue to do awful things, like refuse to integrate their schools. There are some good things about dual federalism, but in a modern context they’re rather few and far between, so the only people who embrace it wholeheartedly do so not on the merits but because that’s the only system that gives them a pretext to continue being horrible.
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:37 AM on February 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


And meanwhile, people complain all the time about the federal government trampling on their liberties when it's usually local governments setting up policing for profit schemes, running kangaroo courts, using civil forfeiture, etc...
posted by zachlipton at 11:55 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Awesome. In Southern California beach cities this would work out to approx $50-60/hour, as my last apartment was $1100 for 244 sq. ft.

I think you've misread the suggestion. It's not to set minimum wages by rent levels, it's to set rent levels by minimum wages. Given that it seems to be extremely difficult to operate a functional housing market without some sort of rent capping, this is an interesting proposal for killing two birds with one stone.
posted by howfar at 3:27 PM on February 29, 2016


Exactly. And even at $60/hr, I wouldn't be in the least surprised if you were still making less in adjusted dollars than when the minimum wage was first established. :/
posted by sexyrobot at 7:47 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Another example of the referring to a city by its population in law: poll closing time in Georgia is 7 pm, except it's 8 pm in cities of population greater than 300,000. Atlanta is Georgia's largest city at about 450K; Augusta and Columbus are both around 200K.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:56 AM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


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