Hypocrisy, at a minimum
Last November, Arkansas voters decided that our state’s lowest-paid workers deserve a raise. By a vote of more than two to one, voters approved an initiated act that would gradually increase the state’s minimum wage from $8.50 to $11 an hour by 2021.
In Carroll County, the increase was approved by 73.5 percent of voters — a margin of nearly three to one.
Given those facts, you can imagine my astonishment when newly installed state Sen. Bob Ballinger of Berryville introduced a bill that would exempt thousands of Arkansans from receiving the increase approved by voters.
Under Ballinger’s bill, workers under the age of 18 would not be covered under the state’s minimum wage law. Nor would employees of public or private educational institutions, from preschool all the way through college, or employees of nonprofits or any business with fewer than 50 full-time employees.
When we contacted Ballinger to ask about the bill, he explained that he had introduced it after speaking with constituents in his district who would be hurt by the minimum wage increase — I suppose those folks would be among the 31.6 percent of voters statewide who opposed the initiated act.
On balance, I support the increased minimum wage. I do have some concerns, mostly related to the effect the increase may have on consumer prices. I recognize that it will increase expenses for small businesses, but with all due respect I do not believe a business — large or small — should rely on cheap labor for its profit margin. If that sounds harsh, I apologize. But it sounds harsh to me that a person with a full-time job can’t afford to pay his bills and provide the basic necessities for his family, all in order to keep his employer’s expenses down.
Over the weekend, Sen. Ballinger participated in a forum sponsored by the chamber of commerce in Fayetteville, focusing on wages paid to employees of the University of Arkansas. The forum was covered by the statewide newspaper, which reported that at one point it was mentioned that some employees of the university depend on help from charity food pantries.
Ballinger’s response, according to the newspaper, was that charity is a “beautiful thing.”
For the record, UA system president Don Bobbitt has an annual salary of $510,000, while Joseph Steinmetz, chancellor of the UA-Fayetteville, is paid $450,534. That’s not even getting into the head football coach or the defensive coordinator for a 2-10 team. It’s difficult for me to comprehend how the university can afford those big salaries, yet pay some employees such a meager amount that they have to go to a food bank. But I guess it makes sense to Ballinger.
I have to wonder how well Ballinger can relate to the people who would be affected by his bill. After all, he certainly doesn’t rely on minimum wage to make ends meet. As I’ve detailed before in this space, he is paid more than $41,000 a year for his part-time job as a state lawmaker, in addition to $153 per day in per diem and 53.5 cents per mile for travel. It’s roughly 170 miles from Berryville to Little Rock, so Ballinger gets paid approximately $180 for every round trip — the same amount a minimum-wage employee earns in about half a work week.
On the other hand, however, Ballinger should certainly be able to relate to individuals who are struggling financially despite being gainfully employed. He can’t seem to pay his own state taxes, explaining that his “calling to an active service in public office does not lend itself to producing a successful income.”
It would seem that Sen. Ballinger’s definition of a “successful income” is quite flexible. My definition of hypocrisy is not.
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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.