October 20, 2013 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: Duck and cover, Spokane

By The Spokesman-Review
 

So I’m enjoying the low-key excellence of “CBS Sunday Morning,” when a pungent political ad pierces the calm with noise about … the Spokane City Council race? You mean the PAC-generated ads that were universally panned in state and national races last year have seeped into smaller races for nonpartisan offices?

Afraid so.

Congress has just demonstrated how these juvenile muggings have made it more difficult for people to work together, but Karl Rove wannabes still thought it would be swell if in-your-face divisiveness trickled down to the local level.

The ad about “bought and paid for” Candace Mumm and Jon Snyder was brought to us by former Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin, who is bought and paid for by homebuilders. According to the logic of the ad, she was procured by the same folks while in office. The ad follows the usual template of melodramatic voice-over, context-bending “facts” and shameless insinuations. From it, you “learn” that crime is on the rise, while public employee unions rake in millions. A connection is implied, but never explained.

In any event, this sinister turn of events apparently sprang from the actions of Snyder, who has but one vote among seven council members, and Mumm, who doesn’t even hold office. McCaslin defends the ad, calling it “accountability.” In response, a public employee labor union PAC has raised $55,000, and it has an ad in the works. So, predictably, the arms race has escalated.

Is this the future? Well, the largest contributor to the Snyder and Mumm attack is Eastern Washington PAC, headed by Tyler Whitney, who is managing the re-election campaign for Spokane Mayor David Condon. (In the interest of disclosure, Wanda Cowles, a member of the family that owns this newspaper, has contributed to this PAC.) Any planned salvos will result in a return of fire, and the chief victim will be City Hall harmony.

Call me bought and paid for, but I think newspapers can handle accountability better than this mutually assured destruction.

Pay up. The idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage is popular in labor circles, and both candidates in the Seattle mayoral contest have embraced it in some form. In July, some fast-food workers staged a one-day strike to rally for an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour.

Now the traditional way this debate goes is to suggest that such an increase, especially one that steep, would be a job killer and especially devastating for those looking for entry-level work. In addition, there’s the rise in prices as businesses pass the cost to customers.

However, there’s also hidden costs to taxpayers for a low-wage workforce, and new research reported on by Bloomberg BusinessWeek last week found that it totaled $7 billion in the fast food industry between 2007 and 2011. A stunning 52 percent of families of fast food workers were on some form of public assistance, compared with 25 percent of families overall, according to the report written by economist Sylvia Allegretto and sponsored by the University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Increased pay would ease the burden on Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Fewer workers would be taking food stamps or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Plus, millions of Americans would have more money to spend, which would boost the economy.

Furthermore, it’s no longer true that these jobs are dominated by live-at-home teenagers earning some gas money. Nearly 70 percent of the workers are single or married adults who are out of school. About one-quarter of them have children.

Not covered by the research is the phenomenon of fast food chains lowering worker hours to avoid providing health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That will result in the double whammy of burdening public assistance even more and sending additional people to the health exchanges to tap government subsidies.

In short, the public pays either way.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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