Aug. 13 2014 09:25 AM

Having trouble making ends meet? The mayor isn't interested

Kevin Faulconer
Kevin Faulconer
Photo by David Rolland

Kevin Faulconer a moderate? Ha! That's nonsense.

During the special election earlier this year to replace former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, while David Alvarez went full-on progressive, Faulconer's campaign team smartly positioned him as the kind of middle-of-the-road politician that San Diegans love to elect.

It was easy for him to say that he's moderated his views on social issues, such as marriage equality, because in municipal government, social issues take a back seat to economic policy. And when it comes to economic policy, Mayor Faulconer is revealing himself to be as conservative as conservative can be.

Last month, the San Diego City Council voted to raise the city's minimum wage incrementally to $11.50 by January 2017 ($9.75 in January 2015, $10.50 in January 2016) and eventually index the wage so that it rises automatically with the local cost of living. The law also requires employers to give workers five paid sick days per year. Last Friday, Faulconer vetoed the ordinance. The council can override the mayor's veto with six votes, and since the ordinance passed on a party-line 6-3 vote, a successful override is expected. The council has until the end of the first week in September to do so.

If that happens, opponents of the minimum-wage increase would then have 30 days to collect the roughly 34,000 signatures required to place a referendum on the ballot in the next regularly scheduled election, which will be June 2016. If they get that many signatures, the minimum-wage increase would be effectively dead until voters decide its ultimate fate.

So, 2.5 percent of the city's population can delay the wage increase and sick-day mandate. Is that fair? Debatable. That question is important because if the law were to go into effect as scheduled and remain in effect until the election, we'd be able to see its impacts. The opponents—led by Faulconer and his most important constituent, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce—are claiming that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs and hurt poor people. We believe that's utter nonsense, and if the law were to be implemented for nearly a year-and-a-half before opponents could attempt to convince voters to keep the lowest wage as low as possible, we think voters would see that Emperor Faulconer and his plutocrat friends are wearing no clothes.

Not long ago, Mark Cafferty, executive director of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, said in a Twitter conversation with a couple of CityBeat writers that, behind the scenes, leaders in the business community often discuss how to combat poverty. We like Cafferty. He's a good and decent person, and we don't think he's a liar. We'll take his comment as the truth. So, the question, then, is: Why don't business groups ever propose any anti-poverty policies on the local level?

The only time we ever hear them talk about poverty is when liberal activists propose policies such as an increase in the minimum wage, and, invariably, what they're saying is something like, "We all want to help people escape poverty, but this isn't the right way to do it." But then we never hear what the right way is—that is, besides letting the free market do its magic: Get out of the way and watch unfettered capitalism deliver us all to the Promised Land.

It's interesting that right now on the federal level, the Republican Party seems to have finally understood that the American public wants something to be done about poverty. Why else would Congressmember Paul Ryan, the Republicans' point person on economic policy, come out with a detailed anti-poverty plan. Ryan at the very least recognizes that there are significant barriers that low-income folks must overcome in order to rise in the economy—things such as racial injustice and lack of affordable child care, just to name two of many—but, overall, his plan is problematic, to say the least. Still, misguided though the plan may be, and regardless of the motivation, Ryan's at least talking about fighting poverty.

Faulconer? Not so much. As worker wages continue to lag further and further behind the rising cost of living, as the local poverty rate increases and more people struggle to afford basic expenses, he's content to do nothing except parrot the talking points of the Chamber of Commerce, and it's impressive that he can do so with his head buried so deeply in the sand.

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