St. Louis' governing board advances raising city's minimum wage to $11 by 2018

St. Louis' governing board on Tuesday advanced a compromise measure that would ease the city's minimum wage up to $11 by 2018.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen had begun its special meeting by considering a plan that would have boosted the local minimum wage to $13 by 2020. But the board, by a 15-6 vote, eventually signed off on the more modest plan — after hours of debate about whether the elevated pay touted by backers as economically empowering to struggling laborers could spur affected businesses to cut jobs or move out.

The measure still requires one more vote by the board, though it was not immediately clear when that might happen. Mayor Francis Slay has endorsed a higher minimum pay.

"From the beginning, the mayor has asked the board to debate this and have a conversation" about the matter, believing "tens of thousands of St. Louis residents could benefit," said Slay spokeswoman Maggie Crane.

Earlier pitches to push the city's minimum wage to $15 or $11 an hour by 2020 stalled.

In July, Missouri Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that would have blocked cities from raising the minimum wage beyond the state's level, saying it infringed on local control. Lawmakers could attempt to override Nixon's veto with more than a two-thirds majority during a special September session.

But that measure includes a provision stating it does not pre-empt any state law or local minimum wage ordinance requirements already in effect as of this coming Friday, leaving backers of the St. Louis measure believing that if they can pass their bill by then it would not be voided by any veto override.

Earlier Tuesday, aldermen who supported the wage increase to $13 asserted it would put more money in the pockets of workers struggling on the state-mandated $7.65 hourly base wage.

"This is for parents. This is for seniors. This is for anyone trying to survive," Alderman Shane Cohn, the measure's chief architect, said during the meeting attended by a couple dozen activists who supported the wage increase. "This is not only an economic imperative. It's a moral imperative."

Alderman Stephen Conway, chief financial officer of St. Louis fixture Imo's Pizza, countered that raising the minimum wage could be counterproductive by driving affected businesses out of the city and into St. Louis County, which has declined to adopt its own minimum wage.

"The easiest way to pay better wages is to get more businesses to move to our city," he said, cautioning that the city's payroll tax and the appearance of "the government telling what you should pay" employees could stifle local business recruitment.

Twenty-nine states now have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate of $7.25, but anti-poverty activists have been campaigning hard for municipal lawmakers to bypass both Congress and their state legislatures and set wages much higher.

Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and its Bay Area brethren, Oakland and Berkeley, all have begun phasing in a minimum wage that will hit $15 per hour within the next few years. A regulatory board in New York took the unorthodox step last month of raising the minimum to $15 for fast food workers.

In Kansas City, Missouri, the governing council in July approved raising the city's minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2020, followed by cost-of-living adjustments in subsequent years. A citizens group's November ballot measure seeks to raise the minimum wage locally to $15 by 2020.