NewsPublic Affairs / August 30, 2019

Fighting Poverty Main Focus Of First Indianapolis Mayoral Debate

Republican challenger Jim Meritt (left) and incumbent Democrat Joe Hogsett (right) talked to the media seperately following the debate.. - Darian Benson/WFYI

Republican challenger Jim Meritt (left) and incumbent Democrat Joe Hogsett (right) talked to the media seperately following the debate..

Darian Benson/WFYI

Indianapolis mayoral candidates, incumbent Democrat Joe Hogsett and Republican State Sen.Jim Merritt, engaged in the race’s first debate last Thursday. One of the hottest exchanges was over the minimum wage.

Hogsett’s current aims to fight poverty include a proposal to require an $18 an hour minimum wage for new jobs if a company applies for tax incentives. 

“This inclusive growth strategy will be designed to be creative in ways to bring prosperity toward people,” Hogsett says. “Whether that’s increasing wages, developments that will provide childcare to people who need it, whether that’s more transit options.”

Merritt says he has not read that plan, but it makes him worry about the city's ability to compete for new jobs.

“I really believe that putting it at $18 really lessens our ability to compete with Carmel or Greenwood, or even Denver ... Seattle,” Merritt says.  “The bottom line is that we have to be competitive so that we can grow our community.”

Merritt says he wants people to stay here to work. Hogsett says the quality of jobs is more important than the quantity of jobs, if you want to fight poverty.

Both candidates say systemic racism is a root of economic inequality. Hogsett says his policies will empower low income black communities.  Merritt says he will introduce his plan to help those communities next month.

Both candidates agree food insecurity is a critical issue in the city. Indianapolis’ food insecurity rate is more than 17 percent, as measured by national nonprofit Feeding America.

Hogsett says he is fighting the problem on several fronts

He says hunger is part of a bigger problem -- poverty. He says he believes education is one of the key ways to fight poverty.

“It’s widely accepted that the fastest ticket out of poverty is quality educational opportunity,” Hogsett says.

Merritt continued his criticism that Hogsett’s plans don’t address the root causes of the problem. 

“I think we need to have a robust program where food is taken to the home,” Merritt says. “I do believe that we need to teach kids in school how important fresh food is.”

Both candidates oppose a new tax on residents to pay for road infrastructure.

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