COEUR d'ALENE - The city of Coeur d'Alene's general services committee voted Monday to take a wait-and-see approach in the ongoing minimum wage debate.
Raise CDA - a group spearheaded by former legislative candidate Anne Nesse and former North Idaho College president Bob Bennett - asked city officials to create a voluntary minimum wage increase program and seek public opinion about it through an advisory vote in November. However, City Clerk Renata McLeod told the committee that staff members recommended tabling the issue until after the Nov. 3 election.
That's when residents of McCall, Idaho, will decide whether to raise the minimum wage within their city limits. McLeod said if McCall votes in favor of the increase, city officials would like to see the outcome of any legal action taken as a result.
"We're somewhat skeptical that Idaho law gives cities the authority to do that," Warren Wilson, city attorney, added. "But if you want to do something advisory, or create something that people want to opt into, we can explore that at your discretion."
Councilman Ron Edinger allowed Nesse five minutes to state her case to the committee before they made any motions. Instead of speaking, Nesse introduced two young people who had prepared statements asking the committee for an advisory vote.
Margaret McGovern, who just completed her sophomore year at Lake City High School, was the first to speak. She told the committee that she lives in a single-parent household and has firsthand experience in the challenges of surviving on a limited income.
"I'm here to represent students who, like me, have a passion for learning but don't know how they're going to afford further education without digging themselves into a massive amount of debt," McGovern said.
The 15-year-old then gave the committee an example of the uncertainty facing her and her peers. McGovern said she was talking with a friend, who told her there was no way she could afford to go to her dream college.
McGovern's friend and her single father are both working minimum-wage jobs and are barely able to afford their bills, she added, let alone a semester at North Idaho College. However, McGovern said, in 1968, her friend would have to work less than 40 hours at minimum wage to pay for a semester at the junior college.
Today, McGovern added, a semester would require more than 250 hours of minimum wage work.
"Lower income people are pushed into this vicious cycle of poverty where they can't afford education," McGovern said. "Students my age have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The best way to provide our intelligent and talented students an equal chance at education is to raise the minimum wage."
Jacob Garringer, a recent college graduate and Coeur d'Alene native, expressed his support for an advisory vote. Garringer, 21, said data from "diverse and objective sources" indicates that increasing the minimum wage allows more money to circulate in the local economy, creating a stronger consumer base.
"As council members, each of you is charged with the responsibility to make bold decisions that increase Coeur d'Alene's status as a strong, vibrant, and prosperous community," Garringer said. "Allowing a simple advisory vote will aid in your decision making and aid in the formulation of good policy that is supported by the community."
Both speakers garnered a round of applause from the large audience gathered to support Raise CDA. But Councilwoman Amy Evans made a motion to table the issue until after the Nov. 3 election.
"I have the greatest amount of respect for your work and your efforts," Evans said. "But from my perspective, there are just too many uncertainties with this."
Evans' motion was seconded by Councilman Steve Adams and passed unanimously.
After the sub-committee decision, Nesse told The Press that her group plans to continue pursuing a motivational law while going door-to-door handing out Raise CDA stickers so residents and businesses can show their support.
"Our response is not going to be mild," Nesse said. "All we were asking for was a non-binding thing and they didn't even let it out of committee."