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Local Businesses Could Bring in Major San Francisco Consultants to Fight Living Wage

Jorge Casuso

The political consultants who directed an independent campaign to get San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown reelected could soon make defeating Santa Monica's proposed living wage ordinance their next major battle, The Lookout has learned.

Business organization leader Mark Mosher - who along with his partners in a new consulting firm raised and spent $1.4 million for Mayor Brown - has recently held half a dozen meetings with local hotel and restaurant owners who oppose the city's ground-breaking living wage proposal.

"We were invited down by the restauranteurs to give advice on the issue," said Mosher, who has been director of the Committee on Jobs, a group consisting of San Francisco's largest employers. "We're in the process of working out how we'll be involved. We'd like to come up with a solution that doesn't end up costing a lot of people their jobs."

Mosher helped postpone a decision on a San Francisco living wage proposal that would have required that private city contractors pay their workers $11-an-hour, the nation's highest living wage. Now, Barnes Mosher Whitehurst & Partners, comprised of San Francisco's top political consultants, could use Santa Monica's Living wage proposal to expand the firm's business statewide.

Santa Monica's proposal - which Mosher called "extreme" and "dumb, wrong and a loser" - would be the nation's first to require that private businesses without direct city contracts or subsidies pay workers a living wage, in this case $10.70 and hour.

As proposed, the ordinance would only cover businesses in the city's coastal zone with more than 50 employees, but there already is talk that the proposal could be altered to cover the entire city before it reaches the council for a final vote.

"There's nothing like it in the U.S.," Mosher said. "The economics is stupid, but the politics are great. But what you begin to recognize is that the living wage accomplishes something other than what the stated goals are.

"Just because it's proposed that way doesn't mean you have to execute it that way," Mosher said. "The living wage doesn't do you much good if you don't have a job anymore. There are ways to boost net incomes without eliminating jobs."

If brought into the battle, Mosher plans to present Santa Monicans with alternatives that include tax credits to the working poor and greater educational opportunities to help them advance.

"If the goal is to make people less poor, the fastest way is education, and not a dime in these laws goes to that," Mosher said. "It's tax credits that put cash back in the pockets of working people. You're not asking local employers to take an additional hit."

Barnes Mosher Whitehurst & Partners would bring political expertise and fundraising abilities to opponents of the living wage. John Whitehurst has run campaigns at the local, state and national levels, while Sam Lauter was a longtime lobbyist for Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

As individual consultants, the partners raised funds for Brown's campaign through four political action committees, angering groups that want to limit the money spent on political campaigns.

On Wednesday, the eve of a city sponsored community meeting to discuss the economic impact of the living wage proposal, Mosher met with representatives of the city's major hotels.

At Thursday night's meeting at the Ken Edwards Center, the city's consultant, Robert Pollin will field questions and get the city's pulse on the issue. Pollin, a leading advocate of the living wage, was hired by the city after more than 60 other economic experts nationwide declined to bid on the job.

Business leaders have attacked the decision to hire Pollin, arguing that the man who wrote the book on the benefits of the living wage cannot be objective, and have asked the city to consider other consultants.

"While we hope Professor Pollin will be able to overcome his policy bias, the Council's refusal to consider other potential consultants - without a policy bias - demonstrates its lack of regard for the business community," said Tom Larmore, who represents the Chamber of Commerce.

Mosher also said he would call for a separate study.

"I'd like to see an unbiased economic study," Mosher said. "I don't think Bob Pollin is capable of doing one. He's incapable of being unbiased. If we're going to try and analyze this, the business community needs to have its own public competition of ideas.

When it hired Pollin in January, the council argued that the economist's academic credentials were strong enough to dispel opponents' fears that the study would be skewed by his position on the controversial issue.

"I'm extremely impressed by the credentials, qualifications and strengths that this team has," Councilman Richard Bloom said at the meeting. "I'm confident we are going to get a fair reading. There will be great public scrutiny.

"I don't think there's any room for anything but a thorough review. I'm sure we're going to get a good report that evaluates the negatives and positives."

Community Meeting
Thursday, March 2, 2000
7 p.m. at the Ken Edwards Center
1527 4th Street, Santa Monica

01_26_00_City Hires Lone Bidder

01_25_00_Find Research Team
01_10_00_Living Wage Proponent

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