Senate halts Birmingham minimum wage increase

Last week, the Birmingham City Council voted to incrementally raise the minimum wage within city limits from the federal rate of $7.25 to $10.10.

Within about 24 hours, or the speed of light when it comes to government action, the Alabama Senate passed a law voiding the hike, which was soon after signed into effect by Gov. Robert Bentley.

The Alabama Uniform Minimum Wage and Right to Work Act was passed virtually along party lines and fast tracked through by the Republican supermajority.

The law’s expressed intent is to ensure that business interests will not be burdened with keeping track of a patchwork of varying local minimum wage laws.

The minimum wage debate has been a long running one among both parties. Republicans argue that hikes kill jobs and slow economic growth.

Pundits on both sides of the political aisle have been engaged in a spirited back and forth regarding the issue in light of recent restaurant closures in Seattle, Wash.

Seattle will soon begin implementing a gradual minimum wage increase with the goal of raising the rate to $15.

Conservatives have pointed to the looming hike as the culprit behind the city’s recent restaurant closures, while Democrats have countered by referring to the simply risky boom and bust nature of the industry.

Hopefully, the most credible argument will reveal itself as the nation studies the issue. Alabama, however, will gain no first hand insight on the issue since the new law prohibits any such local experimentation.

The legislation has also given the late-night comedy circuit and liberal-leaning media another opportunity to engage in their favorite pastime of Alabama bashing.

While this is a major setback for Democrats who favor a minimum wage hike, Republicans may have inadvertently given their opponents a political gift.

With the exception of the lottery and gambling debate, Alabama Democrats have been at a loss for any sort of wedge issue to draw additional voters their way.

While it is far too soon to tell, state Democrats may have found a kitchen table issue with which they can, if not score some victories with, at least breathe some life into their dying party.

In addition to the economic angle, Alabama Republicans will also have to deal with charges that they have violated their expressed ideology.

As the major party which most champions limited government, Alabama Republicans may have some difficulty explaining how the state going over the heads of local government is compatible with their ideology.

Critics, who charge that it is actually Republicans who are acting as the big government boogeyman in this situation, may not be silenced as easily as the legislation was passed.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

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