St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said Wednesday that the city will adopt a minimum wage ordinance — and that he expects to sign it by the end of the year.
Carter’s comments came at a Midway Chamber of Commerce economic development summit, in response to a question he was asked during the end of a presentation he made at the gathering. While some of the details of the ordinance still need to be discussed, Carter said, the basic question of whether St. Paul will adopt a $15 minimum wage “has been asked and answered.”
The minimum-wage position reflects the consensus from the 2017 election, in which 98 percent of votes went for mayoral candidates who had endorsed the local minimum wage, he said. He joked that the last time such a large consensus had been gathered was when high school students voted on whether to have homework.
“We are going to raise the minimum wage in St. Paul,” he said. “We are going to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”
A State of the City preview
Carter’s presentation at the summit was something of a preview of Saturday’s “State of Our City Summit.”
Rather than give a speech as his predecessors have done, Carter will make opening remarks beginning at 9 a.m. at Johnson High School and then have those in attendance break into small-group conversations. At the end, residents will provide feedback to the mayor and his administration.
That won’t be the only difference with previous mayoral addresses, beginning with the name. Rather than a state of THE city, it is being called a state of OUR city.
The purpose, he said is to emphasize that “St. Paul isn’t an inanimate object, that St. Paul is a place that we’re connected to, it’s a place that we’ve chosen, it’s a place that the community has invested in and it’s a place that belongs to us.”
Carter said he created his administration around three values: equity, resilience and innovation, and his remarks Saturday will be focused on what he calls his administration’s core pillars of economic justice, lifelong learning and community-first public safety.
On the latter, Carter said he has already been working with the community and the police department to craft new use-of-force policies for the police.
“We have to have a safe community, but we have to switch our lens on what it takes to create a safe community,” he said.
In the recent past, that has often meant more police officers plus bigger jails plus tougher prosecutors equal safer neighborhoods.
“That’s fatalist,” Carter said. “And it has failed us over and over and over again,” because it is not only “super expensive” but because it destabilizes neighborhoods by marginalizing whole sections of the community.
Instead, he said his strategy is to create safe environments, invest in connecting children and families to opportunities, and work to build trust between police and neighbors.
On economic development, Carter said he wants to shift from efforts to take employers and jobs from neighboring communities and instead market the city as an international, multi-ethnic city where dozens of languages are spoken. He said programs should look at building wealth within the city by improving education, connecting low-income people to banking, and helping the formation of new and small businesses.
And he said the city has less of a job shortage than a workforce shortage.
“I was talking to a restaurateur the other day and he said he was so desperate for a chef — and I quote — he said, ‘I’d teach someone which side of the knife to hold,’ ”
“We have an enormous amount of unutilized human capital in this city,” he said. “And connecting the human resource we have in our city with the human resource need that we have in this city has to be one of the core economic focuses.”
‘If I’ve already made a decision, I want you to know’
On the citywide minimum wage issue, Carter said decisions must still be made as to whether there will be a tip credit, whether there will be exceptions for youth training programs, how it will be phased in and how small businesses are treated.
The mayor also noted that the city will not simply follow the lead of Minneapolis, which last year became the state’s first city to adopt a local minimum wage in excess of the state minimum wage.
“I can tell you as a person who grew up in St. Paul, I’m just not in the practice of establishing Minneapolis as the standard comparison for anything,” Carter said. “Our focus is going to be on identifying the policy that works the best for St. Paul, and that’s it.”
Although those details are yet to be decided by the City Council — which has pledged to continue listening to residents and businesses — Carter declared his opposition to a tip credit, which would carve out an exemption to the wage for workers who count on tips as part of their compensation.
“I have a lot of strong feelings about a lot of those things,” he said. “I want to see it happen as soon as possible. I’m not in favor of treating tipped employees differently. I also know that something being my opinion doesn’t necessarily make it policy.
“I’m inviting everyone into the conversation,” Carter said. But he also said he wanted to move ahead on the issue quickly. “I want those folks in our advocacy community and our labor community to see that we are acting deliberately and intentionally to respond to that urgency, but I also want the whole community to know that we are being very deliberative, that we’re thinking through all these questions.
“But I’ll share with all of you that 15 is already decided,” Carter said. “If I’ve already made a decision, I want you to know about that so we can have an authentic conversation about the things that are on the table.
“My hope and my goal is to sign a $15 minimum wage ordinance into law by the end of this year.”