The law, in force since last November, applies only to businesses seeking economic incentives.
SAN MARCOS, Texas — $15 an hour x 40 hours a week = $600 a week before deductions, or $31,200 a year before deductions.
In February 2016, the city council of San Marcos, Texas, passed a law that sets a $15/hour wage as the minimum that a business can pay if it expects to get economic incentives from the City of San Marcos. The law became active this past November, and it is unique — there is no other law of this kind in Texas.
The legislation has received scant attention. The national Fight for $15 movement was not aware of the law and did not participate in the advocacy for it. Fight for $15 is focused on specific companies and broader statewide and nationwide initiatives. For example, in June, the group supported a San Marcos Wendy’s workers strike over the lack of air conditioning in the restaurant.
San Marcos, home to Texas State University, is a growing but small city, and the impact of the law may not be widespread. It only applies to companies that do business with the city or ask for economic incentives. It is unclear whether it applies to subcontractors.
But council member Lisa Prewitt, the sponsor of the legislation, has made clear in several interviews with news outlets that she wants new businesses in San Marcos to pay a living wage rather than relying on the city to provide their employees with food stamps and subsidies for housing and health insurance. She would like to see a coalition of all cities along the I-35 corridor to create a wage floor.
This strategy takes an intermediate path between Fight for $15’s emphasis on labor organizing on one hand and state and national laws on the other, and this approach could be a useful tool in the larger project to increase the minimum wage to a living wage.
Cities already use a similar mechanism to control development: they set height restrictions for commercial buildings lower than necessary and then allow businesses to build taller buildings if they either pay a fee or agree to restrictions on building use.
It is conceivable that Texas cities could create a $15/hour minimum wage by increasing business property taxes across the board and then rebating the increase in exchange for paying a $15/hour wage plus benefits.
It is unclear whether it would pass the legal bar but, as the wise person said, “Don’t ask permission, just ask forgiveness.” Progressives need to be on the offensive; it’s better to pass a law enacting a $15/hour minimum wage and then defend that law in court than to fail to pass a living wage at all.
This article was first published at the Left Up to Us Newsletter and was cross-posted to The Rag Blog by the author.
[Richard Croxdale is an educational filmmaker with People’s History in Texas and teaches economics at Austin Community College. Croxdale helped edit the acclaimed new book, Celebrating The Rag: Austin’s Iconic Underground Newspaper. He is a member of Left Up to Us.]