Abele, Bowen at odds over paying for Living Wage ordinance

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by Lane Kimble

MILWAUKEE -- Twelve members of the Milwaukee County Board saw passing a living wage ordinance February 6 as a victory.  But the county executive worries those members are far too shortsighted.
 

"I mean, this isn't a one time thing, it's every year," County Executive Chris Abele said.
 

About $5 million dollars every year, pulled from the Milwaukee County Family Care program.  That's what Abele says is at stake with a living wage ordinance.
 

"Everybody wants to address poverty," Abele said.  "I've done a lot of things that do, but the things I've done that address poverty don't come at the cost of another program."
 

The ordinance would require companies with county contracts to pay workers $11.32 an hour.  Abele says the concept sounds great, but the money just isn't there.

"Do they want me to cut bus routes, a senior program, a meal program," Abele said.  "I mean, those things matter.   Do they want me to raise your taxes?  Nobody's addressed that."
 

Family Care helps the elderly and developmentally disabled.  The county Comptroller's report says paying for living wage would require family care to tap into its reserves, which would run out by 2019.
 

"We, as the county board, are moving in a direction of supporting people in poverty," Tenth District Supervisor David Bowen said.  "The county executive, again, is not."
 

Bowen authored the ordinance.  He says the board already helped by agreeing on a lower wage.
 

"That five million dollar number is not accurate," Bowen said.  "And what this will cost Family Care with the reserves that we have, now with the compromise number, is still sustainable."
 

Abele, and several other board members, also worry about built in exemptions for company's that unionize.
 

"On the one hand we're saying, 'Hey, we care about fair wages.  But if you unionize, we'll get you out of having to pay fair wages,'" Abele said.
 

"This exemption that they talk about is the opportunity for workers to be a part of an opportunity where it's not just their wages that's depended on," Bowen responded.


A 12-6 vote by the board gives the ordinance a "veto-proof" majority.  But Abele still plans to fight.
 

"For god's sake, if we do this responsibly, we have to make sure things are paid for," Abele said.


The county executive can take until March 20th to veto the ordinance.  Supervisor Bowen says even if he does, he's confident none of the 12 approving supervisors will change their minds.

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