WATERLOO — Candidates for the Board of Supervisors were split along party lines over a proposed minimum wage increase in Black Hawk County.
Democrats Linda Laylin, Tom Little and Chris Schwartz said they generally supported a local ordinance boosting the county’s minimum wage, while Republicans John Dodge and Terry Scheffert did not.
It was the only direct policy issue drawing distinctly different answers from the candidates Thursday during a forum at the Waterloo Public Library sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Black Hawk and Bremer Counties and the American Association of University Women.
The five candidates at the forum and Republican Chad Folken, who was unable to attend, are running for three board seats seats up for grabs in the Nov. 8 general election.
Supervisors in Polk, Johnson, Linn and Wapello counties have voted to boost their counties’ minimum wage over time above the $7.25-per-hour state and federal level.
While Black Hawk County hopefuls said they would prefer the state or federal government to make any decisions on the issue, only the Democrats supported moving forward on a local ordinance.
“I would be supportive,” said Laylin, an economic development consultant who is seeking a second term. “It’s somewhat ridiculous that our state hasn’t taken action on this in this long a period.”
Laylin did not like the idea of all 99 Iowa counties having different minimum wage regulations, but said she was open to the idea as long as the federal government failed to act and local businesses were part of the discussion.
Little, a three-term incumbent supervisor and retired John Deere employee, said he liked the way Linn County had a committee of county officials and public stakeholders that held numerous input meetings to come up with its plan.
“It’s due; it’s way over time,” Little said. “We just have to go through a due process.”
Schwartz said raising the minimum wage is “a cornerstone” of his first bid for county elected office.
The progressive activist and state director of Americans for Democratic Action said it’s unlikely the state or federal government will act within the next three to four years to raise the minimum wage.
“We just can’t wait that much longer for folks to get a raise,” said Schwartz, noting cities that have boosted the minimum wage saw unemployment drop and economic vitality increase.
Dodge said workers looking to move beyond minimum wage jobs have opportunities locally for training and education.
The U.S. Army veteran and Advanced Systems Inc. manager making his first bid for elected county office said raising the minimum wage in Black Hawk County would be a competitive disadvantage for job creation.
“You make an unlevel playing field,” Dodge said. “If we raise the minimum wage here in Black Hawk County and a potential employer wants to open and have 100 employees, it makes more sense for him to open in Waverly or even as close as Janesville than to do it in Black Hawk County.”
Scheffert, a retiree and veterans advocate vying for his first elected office, said he would prefer to focus on getting people education and training to excel past minimum wage work.
“If we raise minimum wage across the board, what’s that going to do for the cost of living?” he said. “It’s going to raise the poverty level.”
Scheffert suggested a minimum wage hike would do little to help a low-income worker because any gains in pay would reduce their assistance from entitlement programs.
Incumbent Sheriff Tony Thompson and County Attorney Brian Williams, both Democrats running unopposed, also participated in the forum. Auditor Grant Veeder, a Democrat also running without an opponent, was unable to attend.