The U.S. Conference of Mayors is wrapping up its annual meeting in Dallas, Texas. The annual conference covers urban policies ranging including climate change, education, same-sex marriage, inequality and economic growth.
Raising the minimum wage was much discussed, because Seattle recently raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky, tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that he “would support” a gradual increase in the minimum wage, but doing so “has not been a big topic of conversation in our city.”
Interview Highlights: Greg Fischer
On becoming the first mayor of a large city in Kentucky to sign on to the Conference of Mayor’s group in support of same-sex marriage
“To me its a real straight forward discrimination issue. So anything that discriminates against people, I want to speak out about. That’s the moral reason. Secondarily, any city that is on the move with job growth needs to be very clear that there would be no discrimination in the city. So I felt now was the right time to do it, and proud to do so.”
On the biggest challenge facing his city this year
“There’s a lot of inequality in terms of education in the country and our city is the same way. We’ve got some of the greatest performing schools in the country and some that are challenged at the same time. We want to start focusing on education earlier in life, as well, so that when kids get to kindergarten they are ready to learn. Right now there is a big gap between the kids that are advantaged and those that are at risk. Almost every problem comes back to education, so we’re constantly focused on that.”
On an increase in the minimum wage for Louisville
“I’m a business guy that just happens to be mayor. When I talk to businesses around our city, if you are paying the minimum wage you can’t keep people employed. So the market is working in a certain extent in that area but I’m not opposed to minimum wage increases. Obviously there hasn’t been any significant increase in decades in that. Frankly, it has not been a topic of conversation in our city. I would be supportive, however, if it was.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW. Mayors from across the country are in Dallas, Texas today for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. They're discussing ways to reduce income inequality, raising the minimum wage and improving education are high on that list. Greg Fischer is mayor of Louisville, Kentucky. He joins us from Dallas. And Mayor Fischer, first of all, let's just clear something up here. People always tell me the Louisville, not Louisville. Which is it?
MAYOR GREG FISCHER: You did a pretty good job there. When we bring people to Louisville, first thing we do is train them on how to say Louisville.
HOBSON: OK, well, you came out in support of same-sex marriage. That would be the biggest city in Kentucky to have a mayor who has done that. Why did you decide to do that now?
FISCHER: Well, to me, it's just a real straightforward discrimination issue. So anything that discriminates against people I want to speak out about. So that's the moral reason. And secondarily, any city that's on the move with job growth needs to be very clear that there'll be no discrimination in the city. So I felt now was the right time to do it and proud to do so.
HOBSON: And how do you think your city council's going to react to that?
FISCHER: Very positively. We have a fairness ordinance in our city and we're the largest city in Kentucky. And we've led the way on a lot of these issues like that. And I've received massive support since the announcement. A good article on the front page of the newspaper, as well. So it's been really a big-time thumbs up. So this is an issue where there's just more and more support every day. It's important for elected officials to come out with their support.
HOBSON: Is it something you wish you had done earlier?
FISCHER: I've taken the public position on marriage equality before. I've just not signed the Conference of Mayors' resolution on that. So my stance on this has been this has been known.
HOBSON: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing your city this year?
FISCHER: Well, you always want to just go back to the basics. It's the education which then drives jobs, of course. So there's a lot of inequality in terms of education in the country. And our city's the same way. We've got some of the greatest performance schools in the country and we have some that are challenged at the same time. We want to start focusing on education earlier in life, as well. So that when kids get to kindergarten, they're ready to learn. And right now, there's a big gap between the kids that are advantaged and those that are at-risk. So almost every problem in a community comes back to education. You can track it to jobs. You can track it to poverty, health, crime, etc. So we're constantly focused on that.
HOBSON: And is that something that you're getting adequate help from the state and federal government on?
FISCHER: Well, cities feel like they're pretty much on their own. We get some help, obviously. But Washington is not a model for high-performance by any stretch of the imagination. The state budget in Kentucky is under duress. So at the city level, well, we receive some funding from the state, obviously. We're not sitting around waiting from some more money from the feds or from the state. We're saying, what is it we can do in Louisville to move our city forward? So we approach that by initiatives like 55,000 degrees - that's 55,000 more college degrees than what we normally would have the community by the year 2020. When we achieve that, we'll be in the top tier of American cities with adults with college education. So that's just one example we're working on. And we can have more access to pre-K for kids, as well. And, of course, we have our own economic development strategy. But cities, for the most part, are on their own these days. And ironically, 90 percent of the country's GDP comes from cities. Yet we're not receiving very much help from the feds.
HOBSON: Well has any idea popped up at the conference that you think is a really good one when it comes to education?
FISCHER: Well, we focus on a couple different areas. One is on the very early learning ages, from zero to four. That's the most critical time and when the brain is getting developed in young people. So, one of the different ways that cities can come together and make sure that kids are getting that kind of stimulation. And making sure that parents are aware of that as well. This is the time when kids are learning how to think, how to be creative and we've got to give kids maximum attention there. So, they can in fact be ready for kindergarten. So, that's one way and then we have a lot of focus on K at 12 and high school and college at the same time. With a lot of discussion about the rapidly changing nature of the world. And then how does, how do our educational institutions and society adapt to that?
HOBSON: What about minimum wage? That was a big topic at this conference. The minimum wage in your city is $7.25, the federal rate. Is that enough in your view?
FISCHER: I'm a business guy that just happens to be mayor. And when I talk to businesses around our city, if you are paying the minimum wage you can't keep people employed. So, the market is working to a certain extent in that area. But I'm not opposed to minimum wage increases. Obviously there hasn't been any significant increase in decades and that, frankly, that has not been a big topic of conversation in our city. I would be supportive however if it was.
HOBSON: Up to what? $10 an hour?
FISCHER: Over time. You know there's obviously, what the federal discussion is, I don't think it's that aggressive. I mean it's a movement over three years, they're really just trying to keep up with cost of inflation since the last change in the minimum wage as well. So, we haven't had that discussion locally yet, but I'm sure we will.
HOBSON: One other big topic at conference, it sounds like, has been climate change. What are your views on that and what cities could be doing to combat that?
FISCHER: Well, unfortunately we're at a point with the economy where people understand that sustainable business and a profitably has to be the same thing. Years ago it was kind of an either or, but unfortunately that's not the case anyplace and cities like in any (unintelligible) issues ground zero for this issue. So, In Louisville our sustainability plan addresses a lot of issues. One area that we're focused on right now is our tree canopy - making sure that we have adequate trees in the right places. We're doing the nation's first ever study of our tree canopy in our city, so we can be intelligent about how we enhanced the trees in our city. Recycling, obviously big issues as well, water quality, air quality, discussing the recent federal changes in that and how they affect our city. So, it - to be a good growing - great city, you've got to have clean air. Got to have clean water. You got to have clean soil and it's hard to find people that disagree with that too much.
HOBSON: Mayor Fischer finally what city at this conference is an inspiration to you? What city do you look at and say, that is a city that I'd like to steal some ideas for Louisville from?
FISCHER: Well, that's what we're here for. There's over 200 mayors that are basically learning from each other. We imitate them, we innovate, so it could be what Salt Lake is doing with transportation. It could be what Nashville is doing with their built environment. So, there's all kinds of great mayor's that are focused and working 18 hours a day for their cities. So, that's the wonderful thing about a conference like the U.S. Conference of Mayors. You come together very quickly, you help each other as best you can and support each other through the times. Because we're all in this together and we see the Metro economies is the engine for the country. So, we're here to share and learn from each other.
HOBSON: Greg Fischer is the Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky. Joining us from the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Dallas, Texas. Mayor Fischer thank you.
FISCHER: OK, Jeremy thank you.
HOBSON: And Sacha I started off our interview there talking about the fact that we say - a lot of people say, Louisville - in fact as he says it's Louisville. There are a lot of cities around the country where you have that situation. There's for Versailles, Kentucky. There's Cairo, Illinois.
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
That's right there's Carmel, Maine, Then there's - no, it's Carmel, Maine right then Carmel (car-mail),California.
HOBSON: OK, there's also Des Moines, Iowa but Des Plaines, Illinois. Go figure that one out. And then there's one, that I still don't get but it's Mackinac Island, not Mackinac (Mack-in-ack) even though that's how it's written. Let us know your's at hereandnow.org. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.