Zelinsky: Taking our alderman to task

This past week, Alderman Michael Jones ’11 reintroduced his living wage proposal, which would increase minimum wages from $12 to $14.67 an hour for employees of companies with New Haven city contracts. This legislation will hurt taxpayers and workers at a time when neither can afford it. Instead of focusing on these types of flashy but flawed policies, Mr. Jones should respond to the real needs of his constituents: Yale students.

Supporters of the higher living wage contend that businesses will absorb the entire cost of the wage-hike and simply accept lower profits. This logic is deeply flawed. If the companies doing business with the city can, in fact, operate with less profit, then taxpayers today are overpaying for their services. If the premise underlying Jones’ proposal is indeed correct, the Board of Alderman and the mayor have been permitting companies to fleece the city with bloated contracts while generating excessive profits.

The real impact of the higher living wage will be higher costs for services and goods for the city. New Haven taxpayers will shoulder this burden at a time when their own private sector salaries stagnate. It is irresponsible to place this financial hardship on a city already facing a serious budget shortfall. Recently, the mayor fired 16 police officers to help close the city’s fiscal gap — Jones’ living wage would hand a pink slip to countless more.

The wage-hike not only socks the taxpayers’ pockets, but also hurts the workers it is designed to help. A 20 percent increase in the price of labor deters companies from hiring new employees and retaining old ones. Companies with New Haven contracts will trim labor at every corner, creating new hardships for those with and those seeking jobs in a time of already high unemployment.

But the living wage proposal is not simply bad business, bad for New Haven and bad for New Haven taxpayers. It is emblematic of a more serious trend: Ward 1 aldermen have become social reformers at the expense of their electorate. These men and women, voted into office by their Yale peers, typically focus on eye-catching citywide initiatives like Jones’ living wage, forgetting about their constituents. The aldermen’s apparent logic: Yalies have no political needs, so the Yale alderman can roam free to fix New Haven’s social problems. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Here are two of many examples of city issues, past and present, that affect Yale students and call for aldermanic representation.

One: In the aftermath of the Elevate raid, Yale students need a strong voice with legitimacy in City Hall to decry police brutality and push for a comprehensive investigation to make sure nothing like this happens again. Instead of leading our community, Jones has remained mostly silent in the face of serious police misbehavior aimed at his constituents. The result: An internal affairs investigation which whitewashes police offenses during the Elevate raid, ignores police perjury after the fact, and increases the likelihood of another incident. What’s more, this internal affairs boondoggle doesn’t just hurt Yalies; it sends a message to every New Haven citizen that the police force doesn’t face consequences for abuses of authority.

Two: Recently, the mayor approached the state legislature about authorizing the city to enact local option sales taxes. These taxes would disproportionately affect Yalies, who shop and eat almost exclusively downtown. Unlike other consumers who can drive to nearby towns to avoid these taxes, Yale students are at a unique disadvantage because of our immobility. What is more, the added cost of the tax will hit hardest those students on financial aid who are already seeing the self-help portion of their tuition rise. We need our alderman to categorically oppose any local option sales tax.

Ultimately, Jones’ legacy is one of inaction. He has failed to address the true needs of his constituents and has instead pushed unsound proposals like a wage-hike. As we begin to select a new Ward 1 alderman, let’s pick someone with economic understanding and a real dedication to us at Yale: the voters he or she will represent.

Nathaniel Zelinsky is a sophomore in Davenport College.


  • slatest

    There’s a lot of crazy talk waiting to be called out here, but first of all: don’t attempt to speak for me as a Yale student, and especially not as someone on financial aid, since I strongly suspect you are not the second. I feel pandered to. Please stop or at least approach your pandering with a lighter touch. I do not know many financial aid students who do serious shopping in downtown New Haven at Gant, J. Press, and American Apparel, and it’s not because of New Haven’s high taxes.

    Also, I am perfectly fine at riding the bus to the Milford mall, thanks all the same for your concern about my “immobility.”

  • whydoIhaveaname

    I think part of the problem is that Yale Students are stuck in a weird sort of limbo between asking too much and asking too little–either too entitled, or embarrassed of their entitlement.
    That being said, totally agree with slatest. Please don’t pretend to care about me. And especially don’t exploit other students for the sake of your tactless and frankly fruitless attempt to air your A+ in microecon. Sweet, bro.

  • dm

    The day the author proposes a solution, as opposed to simply tearing down the powers-that-be is the day I take the author seriously.

  • alsoanon

    I feel like this article can be summed up as: Mike Jones, stop trying to help people in New Haven who need help and start trying to make life even easier for Yale students, because we are so so disadvantaged boo-hoo. I know that I, for one, voted for Mike Jones not because I thought he would prevent my food at G-Heav from being taxed more but because I thought he would try to make New Haven a better place for everyone.

  • y_07

    I think the author is right on here, and similar issues have been a problem at least since the days of Ben Healey. I think the previous comments (especially alsoanon) are putting words in the author’s mouth about not working to improve the lives of New Haven residents. As the author points out, a rise in the city minimum wage might well lead to job losses and service cutbacks, which affects New Haven residents as much as it affects Yalies. I also think the previous commenters have ignored issues about holding the police to task; it certainly looks to me like Jones has done a very bad job of this.

    More generally, I think simply mocking Yalies and calling them over-priveledged is cheap, and ultimately unhelpful. There’s an important debate to be had here, and while name-calling might be good politics, it’s not particularly helpful for talking about the issues.

    As to the issues: a sales tax defintiely impacts Yales. While I agree that Yalies don’t need to shop at the yuppie-crap stores around campus (and those that do can definitely afford a modest sales tax increase), there are a lot of public benefits associated with those stores. Yale has done a nice job of, for example, arranging for some stores to be open 24 hours, etc., which has played a big role in increasing safety around campus. So, for example, even though I refuse to shop at gourmet heaven/A-1 because I think they’re ridiculously over-priced (and the A-1 owners are jerks), I still am happy that they’re there and think Yalies would be badly hurt by any policy change which forces them to close. Just because some assert that Yale students are “privileged” doesn’t mean they deserve to get mugged.

    On a broader level, the downtown area’s revitalization is essential to New Haven as it pulls in a lot of business from the suburbs, leading to sales tax revenue and jobs. There is some optimal level of taxation to maximize New Haven’s revenue without pushing away too many jobs and too much business, and I don’t pretend to know what that is. However, current policy proposals don’t address the issue at all, which is downright irresponsible. Many, like alsoanon, simply frame it as a moral issue. This is shortsighted and foolish.

  • alphabetical

    Arguing against a living wage? Really, Zelinsky?
    First of all, nobody’s forcing Yalies to shop and eat downtown. There’s something called a meal plan, you know. The students who can afford to shop downtown already do and probably would continue to even if taxes slightly increased. Students on significant financial aid likely don’t shop downtown much anyway, seeing as the major retailers (Urban Outfitters, J. Crew, Gant…?) are pretty pricey to begin with in my opinion (and I’m not even on full financial aid).

    Secondly, as a resident of New Haven I want to see my elected representative advocate for policy that not only benefits me specifically, but is good for the city as a whole. I think a living wage would be one of these policies, and I highly commend Mike Jones for promoting such a proposal. A better New Haven benefits students and longtime residents of the city alike. The fact that you don’t recognize this surprises and disappoints me, considering you grew up here.

  • Leo

    Since wages are determined primarily by worker productivity, the solution is to the eliminate the minimum wage altogether. By acting as a bar which workers must jump over in order to get hired, the minimum wage creates unemployment among those who are uneducated and unskilled, and therefore less productive. An increase in the minimum wage causes an increase in unemployment among the poor. If this were not the case, why not simply declare a minimum wage of $1,000 an hour and make everyone rich?

  • grumpyalum

    Removing the minimum wage is redistributing working class’s people money to the unemployed.

  • Jaymin

    I personally can’t attest to the job Mike Jones has done as alderman (I’m sure he did fine for a freshman on the council), but I’m doubting the wisdom of having a Yale student as our representative. Sure, a Yalie can best represent the concerns of his 20,000 campus peers, but chances are really good that after graduation, the he/she will move on to another city. Government works in 10 year cycles, not semesters. Substantive policies require relentless follow-through and commitment, which a single term alderman simply can’t provide. Whatever concerns we have for the city or the campus will simply keep washing away with this rapid turnover of representation.