Activists trying to raise the minimum wage in Albuquerque by a dollar an hour coupled with automatic cost-of-living increases say they have gathered enough petition signatures to force a vote on the issue.
They turned in the last of 25,156 signatures on Monday, said Becca Glenn, a spokeswoman for the wage coalition. That’s more than twice the number required to move the ordinance forward.
The City Clerk’s Office now has 10 days to verify the validity of the signatures, which must be from Albuquerque voters.
“We’re confident we have enough signatures,” said Matthew Henderson, executive director of Olé New Mexico, a nonprofit community group involved in the effort.
The proposal is expected to trigger fierce debate if it makes the ballot. The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce said it’s ready to fight the measure.
The proposal would amend the city’s minimum-wage law to require pay of $8.50 an hour, starting next year. That’s up from the $7.50 an hour required in Albuquerque now. The federal requirement is $7.25.
Supporters of the wage hike are working under a rarely used provision of the City Charter that allows “direct legislation through voter initiative.” They had two months to gather signatures from 12,091 voters.
If the clerk certifies they have met the requirement, the ordinance must be proposed to the City Council. If the council rejects the ordinance, amends it or fails to act within a certain period of time, the proposal must be scheduled for an election within 90 days, according to the charter.
Supporters say they want the ordinance to go on the general election ballot Nov. 6.
But it’s not clear that will happen. Just last week, an assistant attorney general advised state election officials that she believes the general-election ballot, by state law, is supposed to be reserved for state- or county-wide questions, not municipal issues.
If the wage question can’t go before voters in November, then a special election would be scheduled. But state law says there can’t be other elections 42 days before or 30 days after a general election. That might push a vote on the wage ordinance to December.
Glenn said putting it on the November ballot makes the most sense. It would avoid the cost of a special election and the county clerk has “technology (that) allows her to have the minimum wage on only municipal voters’ ballots,” Glenn said.
Henderson said activists circulating petitions found plenty of support for the wage hike.
“The minimum wage hasn’t gone up in Albuquerque in three years,” Henderson said in an interview. “It’s already out of date. The economy is in such a sour state, a lot of people think that in order to boost consumer spending, this is the kind of thing that can help.”
The proposal, he added, would “put a lot more money in the hands of low-wage workers who will spend it right away.”
Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said the proposal would hurt Albuquerque.
“The Chamber is ready for battle if this one makes it on the ballot,” she said in a written statement. “Increasing the minimum wage will eliminate jobs, lower benefits and increase prices in Albuquerque. In a nutshell, Albuquerque will become much less competitive.”
She said the chamber will oppose the proposal “because no one wants an uncompetitive city. The proponents of this effort ought to join us and work, instead, on education reform. Let’s increase the quality of life for all by lowering the dropout rate and closing the achievement gap.”
The ordinance calls not only for raising the minimum wage in 2013, but also for cost-of-living increases each year after that. There also would be new requirements that apply to employees who receive tips.
The coalition working on the wage proposal includes AFSCME, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, New Mexico Voices for Children, the Restaurant Opportunities Center and Working America.
City Clerk Amy Bailey said her staff is already working to verify the signatures. About 60 percent of those checked so far have been valid, she said.
If that rate holds up, the wage ordinance will have more than enough signatures to move forward.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal