IN THE FINAL days of an otherwise somnambulistic election season, St. Paul's "Livable Wage" referendum has reached a surprising boil--so much so that some members of Mayor Norm Coleman's staff say Hizzoner actually considered taking a leave of office to work against the initiative, à la highly paid hitman Erich Mische. (Though we're doubtful the ambitious Norm would ever risk missing a ribbon-cutting opportunity, staffers relate the story with a straight face.)
While dozens of grass-roots volunteers labor for the referendum--which would restrict St. Paul city aid to businesses paying enough to keep a family of four above the federal poverty line, or about $7.21 an hour--their opposition is financed by decidedly more concentrated economic interests. Four major companies--insurance giants Minnesota Mutual and The St. Paul Companies, as well as publicly protected oligopolies NSP and U.S. West--contributed $28,200 of the $30,350 raised to fight the initiative. (A fourth group, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, kicked in an additional $5,700 of staff time.)
The insurance industry is particularly threatened by the proposal; the Insurance Federation of Minnesota contributed $1,679 for fundraising, mailings, and campaign consulting. Five other small St. Paul businesses rounded out the contributors, kicking in $1,850--pocket change for those fighting to see that some people get paid just that per hour.