Yesterday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine issued an opinion stating cities do not have the ability to raise the minimum wage. Though it is not binding on courts, the advisory opinion from Ohio’s chief law officer further solidifies the long-held belief that municipalities cannot raise the minimum wage due to constitutional issues and is consistent with opinions from city attorneys in Cincinnati and Columbus. In the opinion, it explicitly states that Article XVIII, § 3 of the Ohio Constitution doesn’t grant cities the authority to adopt ordinances setting a minimum wage that conflicts with the state minimum wage. Further, Article II, § 34 and 34a of the Constitution provides the legislature with the authority to pass laws related to minimum wage, preempting local governments. Though the opinion was issued at the request of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters, the place this could have the biggest effect is in Cleveland.
Earlier this year, a group introduced a petition to increase the minimum wage within Cleveland city limits to $15 per hour. The proposal, which was sent to Cleveland City Council, would be devastating for businesses located within the city. It would raise the minimum wage almost immediately to the $15 mark on January 1, 2017 with absolutely no phase in. Similar to a citizen initiated statute at the state level, the proposal was sent to City Council who has a specified time period to pass, vote down, or amend the proposal. If the proposal is voted down or amended, the group pushing the wage hike would have the option collecting signatures to put the language on the ballot for Cleveland voters to accept or deny.
Cleveland City Council members and the Mayor have not been enamored with the proposed increase due to fear that, if the minimum wage is increased in Cleveland alone, businesses will lay off Cleveland workers or move out of the city. Thus, the opinion provides additional cover for City Council to vote down the proposal. Then it will be up to the group pushing the proposal to determine whether to push forward in an attempt to make it to the ballot. If that happens, the opinion provides additional fodder for a legal challenge if it would pass.
This opinion, while a big help to ensure municipalities throughout the state don’t unilaterally raise the minimum wage, could further the set the stage for a showdown on the statewide minimum wage in 2018. Stay tuned for additional updates as this issue progresses.