Close in Sarasota

Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

Tampa Rick Smith, the WARN organizing director, and I sat in the “war room” all day as the final reports came in on the verification of signatures for a precedent setting initiative petition in the City of Sarasota. As night fell we were still 58 signatures short of confirmation, so it is just a matter of days before the petition is certified for the ballot in September. This will be an interesting vote for this western Florida, Gulf Coast town, but it is also going to be a vote that will be closely watched throughout Florida and beyond. Here’s why?

Some years ago when the Florida state legislature took away the “home rule” authority of cities and counties to regulate things like wages, because they feared that ACORN and others would bring individual wage initiatives on a citywide basis following the victory in New Orleans and elsewhere, they left untouched an important exception. If a development within the governmental jurisdiction was subsidized by the local taxpayers then there was a public interest potentially in allowing the local jurisdictions to insist of a wage that would correlate to the public interest and subsidy. In Sarasota there have been a number of projects both developed and on the board including a big Whole Foods a couple of years ago and a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter among other projects that would be good examples of subsidized developments. WARN researchers headed by Greg Mellowe worked to write the initiative that has been circulating for the last 90 days so that the subsidized wage would insure that a worker would make close to $9.50 per hour on such a job.

This is exciting! It has also been interesting wide and deep support that we have found for the measure in Sarasota thus far. People really understand that if they are giving some business a break, then by goodness, the workers and the community should get a fair shake.

Stay tuned to this one. As Sarasota goes, so may go the rest of Florida, and there may be others not far behind.