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Minimum Wage To Get Vote

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It looks like it will be up to voters to decide whether to boost Albuquerque’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour starting next year.

City Clerk Amy Bailey verified Thursday that at least 12,200 city voters signed petitions in support of the measure. Supporters needed 12,091 signatures, though they turned in more than twice that many.

“We gave them a little wiggle room, and we decided we’re going home,” Bailey said Thursday evening after 10 days of counting signatures.

She intends to file a formal certification today stating that supporters met the signature requirement..

That means the wage ordinance must be proposed to the City Council, which will have 14 days to act on it. If the council rejects the idea or fails to act, it must be scheduled for an election within 90 days. So far, the council has not demonstrated an interest in raising the minimum wage.

Supporters want the proposal to go before voters in the Nov. 6 general election.

The proposed ordinance calls for raising the minimum wage in Albuquerque a dollar an hour, from $7.50 to $8.50, starting Jan. 1. That’s a 13 percent increase.

There would be automatic cost-of-living increases each year after that.

Employers who provide certain child- and health-care benefits would still be allowed to pay $1 less than the new minimum wage, a provision in the current ordinance.

There would also be new rules for waiters, waitresses and other tipped employees.

Albuquerque’s minimum wage is already above the federal requirement, which is $7.25. The city’s last increase, to $7.50, went into effect in January 2009.

The proposed ordinance doesn’t say specifically how future cost-of-living increases would be calculated. It simply says that, on Jan. 1 every year, the wage would be “adjusted based on the increase, if any, in the cost of living, and rounded to the nearest multiple of five cents.”

Supporters say the wage increase would boost the local economy by putting money in the hands of people likely to spend it. They also note that the requirement hasn’t increased in more than three years, even as other costs have gone up.

“The people here are oppressed, they’re barely surviving and they need money,” said Mary Lee Ortega, president of the Board of Directors for Olé New Mexico, which worked on the campaign.

The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce says it’s ready to fight the proposal.

“This legislation would eliminate jobs, cut benefits and increase prices,” said Terri Cole, president and CEO of the chamber. “All of that will make Albuquerque absolutely uncompetitive, and we’ll do everything we can to defeat this on the ballot.”

Supporters of the wage hike worked under a provision of the City Charter that allows “direct legislation through voter initiative.” They had two months to gather signatures from 12,091 voters.

That provision has been used only once, in 2005, when a minimum wage proposal ended up failing at the polls. The council, however, revisited the idea in 2006 and adopted a wage ordinance that phased in increases through 2009.

The coalition working on the new wage proposal includes Olé New Mexico, AFSCME, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, New Mexico Voices for Children, the Restaurant Opportunities Center and Working America.

There’s been some debate over whether it’s legal to propose municipal questions such as the minimum wage on a general election ballot. Most of the discussion has centered on Albuquerque’s plan to put $50 million in bond funding on the ballot for the Paseo del Norte interchange.

The Bernalillo County clerk – who oversees the general election in Albuquerque – said she believes municipal questions can go on the Nov. 6 ballot, assuming some technicalities are worked out. The city could also hold a mail-in election concurrently with the general election.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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