On the Side| Brad Hicks

 I make it a practice to remain a safe distance from wallet-emptying shopping centers such as Valley West Mall and Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines, but for practical purposes of an ongoing argument, I’m going to use them as an example.

Polk County recently approved its own minimum wage, going above the $7.25 that’s the federal minimum wage, and thus, the Iowa minimum wage. Polk County’s new minimum wage is supposed to increase in stages the next few years. So, those new, inexperienced workers at the Valley West Mall are going to make better than the Iowa minimum wage for starting pay. 

You remain in West Des Moines if you hop in your vehicle and drive the five miles from Valley West Mall to Jordan Creek Town Center, but you wind up in Dallas County. And the folks in Dallas County have not made any plans to increase that county’s minimum wage.

Surely, people will want to work at Valley West more than Jordan Creek, just because of the rate of pay. Lots of people hail that as a victory for workers. Except, there may be a few businesses that look across the county line and see they can avoid minimum wage payroll increases by relocating to Jordan Creek or its neighborhood. That’s not good business for the mall company.

Of course, it’s not that simple. But, in increasing the minimum wage there will be people who make more than that now who will expect a raise to stay ahead of the minimum wage. That leaves the company in a position of finding ways to increase revenue or reduce expenses. 

It’s an interesting economics exercise, one for which just about everyone claims to have the definitive answer.

I don’t. I’m old enough to realize that.

Apparently, Republicans think they’re old enough to realize it, too, because they don’t want cities and counties in Iowa having their own minimum wage, creating a patchwork of $7.50, $9.15, or $12 minimum wages across the state. So, the GOP, which is in total control at the Statehouse, is working to quash all of those varying rates and keep the minimum wage at $7.25.

The counties which have enacted the higher wage – all of them leaning heavily Democrat – are up in arms, claiming the Republicans are taking away local control. The Republicans are claiming there shouldn’t be local control over a state minimum wage because of problems such as the aforementioned ones. So, there’s a debate you can have over a meal with family, if you dare. (I know your friends would agree with you – that’s why you picked them. You can’t pick your family.)

Reality is that local control in Iowa government long since went on life support. State government, whether under the control of Republicans or Democrats, has eroded it. School funding is set by the state. Local sales tax rates are controlled by the state. Road funding is allocated by the state. Property tax rollbacks are controlled by the state. Student achievement goals and a lot of curriculum are controlled by the state. Businesses are licensed by the state. Years ago, when Jack DeCoster came to Iowa and began erecting dozens of hog confinement facilities, a county asserted “home rule” through its board of health, claiming it had jurisdiction over the manure lagoon. DeCoster sued, but moved to a nearby county that welcomed him. In the end, the Iowa Supreme Court said only the state could legislate anything to do with agriculture and ag land use since that’s what the Code of Iowa said – so much for local health controls. Today, a state-established matrix “lets” county boards of supervisors determine whether a confinement operation can be approved.

I doubt the counties would prevail in this argument either.


Brad Hicks is publisher of The Express. Reach him at publisher@redoakexpress.com

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