Council continues to push for higher living wage in Austin as budget talks continue

Raising Austin’s living wage continues to be a top priority for city officials as deliberations on the fiscal year 2022-23 budget continue ahead of the final vote on the planned spending plan. next week.

During an Aug. 9 business session covering several elements of City Manager Spencer Cronk’s proposed $5 billion budget, city council members reiterated their call for a bigger increase in the city’s minimum wage than Cronk hadn’t foreseen it in his original plan. The draft budget released in July calls for an increase in the wage floor from $15 to $18 an hour, the first increase for the city’s lowest-paid workers in years. The plan also includes a one-time $1,500 stipend given to all employees with at least one year of service.

The council voted unanimously to raise the living wage to $22 an hour this year in June and will likely look to find middle ground between the two figures this month.

Beginning in 2014, Austin had several annual living wage increases of $11 to $15 per hour until 2018 when the regular increases ended. Managers and staff said that despite the goal of restarting these annual salary adjustments while making up a few years, the cost of jumping more than 46% to a rate of $22 an hour might not be taxable. possible right away.

The Board’s vote in June came with management that Cronk should seek to increase salaries “by the largest amount possible” if the move to $22 was not achievable this year and also called for the implementation of a progressive plan to continue to increase wages over the next few years.

“I was a little disappointed with the city manager’s plan for how we get to $22 an hour and when that happens,” Pro Tem Mayor Alison Alter said. “I never really thought it was possible for us to get past maybe $19 this year, but I still have a goal to get us up in time. So I want to think about how we proceed over time, recognizing that at this point we don’t have any money that we have identified to fund how we would transition from one to the other.

According to city finance staff, the living wage increase from $15 to $18 an hour already funded in Cronk’s budget proposal would benefit more than 1,750 full-time city employees, more than 3,100 temporary workers and 136 part-time employees. A higher wage limit of $22 an hour would affect about 5,000 total employees, and the cost of this change in fiscal year 2022-23 could total nearly $23 million.

Going forward, annual salary increases on track to an hourly floor of $27 by fiscal year 2026-27, as requested by the board, would cost between $9.5 million and $21.3 million dollars in each of the years to come.

District 2 council member Vanessa Fuentes is one of many backing the push for a bigger wage hike this year. She said she believes reaching a rate of at least $20 would be “more competitive” for the city and help many employees who told the council they risked being kicked out of the city at their wages. current. She and other officials also said funding for some of the one-time costs could be found in part by eliminating long-running vacancies still included in the new budget proposal.

“Knowing the staffing crisis that we find ourselves in, knowing the cost of living that we have here in this city, it was wonderful that we all unanimously agreed that the reinvestment in the workforce of our city was a key strategy to get back to basics and provide the fundamentals of city government,” Fuentes said. “I’m grateful to the city manager for coming up with a budget with an $18 minimum wage, but I don’t I don’t think that’s enough to deal with the scale of the staffing crisis we find ourselves in and to help our lowest – salaried workers afford and live in the city they serve.

Fuentes said she plans to introduce a budget amendment, already supported by some of her colleagues, to reach the $20 level in the coming fiscal year.

According to staff research, Austin’s proposal to pay its workers at least $18 an hour would match or exceed many other central Texas governments. Travis County is also proposing a living wage of $18 in its upcoming budget, while Austin Community College recently approved a floor of $20 an hour. Staff also noted that Capital Metro offers a starting fare of $22 for its bus drivers. Williamson County and cities such as Round Rock, Pflugerville and Georgetown all have minimum wages below $18 an hour.

Michael A. Bynum