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Confusion Reigns On Wage Proposal

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The future of Albuquerque’s minimum wage proposal is about as clear as Rio Grande mud.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association said Tuesday the proposal’s confusing language appears to require that some employers – not their employees – receive the new minimum wage.

And city officials disagree over what action is needed to place the item on the Nov. 6 ballot. The proposal would increase the minimum wage for most employees from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour. It also would change the law for employees who receive tips.

The questions come as the City Council today prepares to hold its last meeting before the deadline to certify the ballot. It’s not clear whether the council will take formal action on the wage tonight.

In any case, Carol Wight, chief executive officer of the state Restaurant Association, said the proposal is destined for court if it’s ever approved.

“I can’t imagine, with this fatal flaw, that the folks who put this petition forward would be supporting it because it does have employees paying employers,” Wight said Tuesday.

Rebecca Glenn, a spokeswoman for the coalition supporting the wage increase, said the confusing language is merely a typo and, furthermore, it went unnoticed by the thousands of people who signed the petition.

“The City Clerk signed and approved the petition without noticing the typo,” Glenn said in a written statement. “And New Mexico law is clear that typos should be fixed, and we should move on. The actual text of the proposed ordinance – as opposed to the summary and the petition language – is flawless, and that is the law that voters will be voting for or against.”

The confusing language appears in the petitions circulated in favor of the measure and a formal summary of the initiative proposed for the ballot. They say the new law would require “employers … be paid” a share of the minimum wage.

Here’s the whole line from the petition: “The measure would also require that starting in 2013, employers of tipped employees like waitresses and waiters be paid at least 45 percent of the minimum wage in cash wages from their employers, and that …”

In other words, it has employers paying themselves.

City councilors can try to amend the wage proposal to fix the wording, but even if they do, the original wage proposal still must go on the ballot, alongside any amended version proposed by the council itself.

How to get the proposal on the ballot isn’t clear either.

About 10 days ago, the city clerk certified that supporters had submitted enough valid signatures to force the City Council to consider the issue.

The City Charter requires that an election be held within 90 days if the council rejects the wage ordinance or refuses to act on it.

But taking no action doesn’t seem to be an option under state law, which says a governing body must first adopt an election resolution.

Two councilors are trying to get a special-election resolution on tonight’s agenda. The resolution would place the wage question on the Nov. 6 ballot. But the resolution was added to the agenda late, so it will take a two-thirds vote of the council, or six of nine votes, to suspend the rules and consider immediate action on the measure.

That’s no sure thing.

Council President Trudy Jones said she doesn’t believe the council needs to act at all. The City Charter provision requiring an election is enough, she said.

“It should happen by charter without council action,” Jones said.

City Clerk Amy Bailey said the laws on how the matter should be handled are complicated.

But, she said, “state law requires that a governing body pass an election resolution in order for me to have any kind of election.”

The charter provision that allows petition-generated election questions has only been used once before, on a failed minimum wage proposal that voters rejected six or seven years ago. The City Council approved a wage hike the next year.

Bernalillo County election workers, meanwhile, must certify the Nov. 6 ballot on Tuesday.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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