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Minneapolis City Council votes to kill the $15 minimum wage referendum

Off the record, council members worry that small business won't be able to afford better wages.

Off the record, council members worry that small business won't be able to afford better wages.

A collage of emotions, poster boards, and threats was on display inside City Council chambers as proponents of a $15 an hour minimum wage in Minneapolis pushed harder than ever to make it a reality.

One-by-one the working poor stepped to the podium to tell their stories to the 12-member committee that was being asked to put the 15 Now referendum on the November ballot.

Denise Hodges was one of them. She makes $9.50 an hour and says allowing voters to decide comes down to "a quality of life" issue. Her present wage "is not living."

Supporters who packed the room frequently chanted: "Let the people vote!"

Tyler Vassar is a student and delivery man for Jimmy John's. He characterized Minneapolis as "a tale of two cities." Only a block away from affluent sections, said Vassar, are parents who fight to pay the power bill and log so many hours that they struggle to be engaged parents.

Council members are trapped in a no-win situation. If the initiative were to be approved via citywide referendum in less than short four months, it could mean a march toward insolvency for many small businesses, some told City Pages off-the-record because of the emotionally-charged nature of the issue. 

Making the debate even muddier is a recent opinion by City Attorney Susan Segal, who concluded Minneapolis' charter forbids creating laws by citizen initiative. 

Bruce Nestor, one of the attorneys representing 15 Now groups, characterized Segal's argument as legal semantics.

According to Nestor, "an essential municipal function" of Minneapolis "is to provide for the general welfare of the population." Upping the minimum helps deliver just that so people can "feed their children, pay their rent, and enjoy their lives."

In the end, a 10-2 vote squashed the movement.

15 Now is expected to file suit, asking the courts to force the city to put the question to the citizenry come election day.     

In the meantime, the council hopes to come up with its own plan to create a new minimum sometime next year.