ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s down to the 11th hour.
State District Judge Nan Nash heard arguments from all sides Monday as she weighed whether the City of Albuquerque can be forced to put a minimum-wage increase question on the Nov. 6 ballot. The deadline for certifying the ballot is today, and Nash said she would try to have a ruling by first thing in the morning.
Attorneys for OLÃ‰ Education Fund, the group leading the effort to increase Albuquerque’s minimum wage, said the City Council is required by law to put the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. That’s because the City Charter requires that an election be held on the measure within 90 days of the filing of petition signatures, and state law bars the city from having an election on any other date during that period.
State regulations prohibit holding a municipal election 42 days before or 30 days after a general election. A municipal election, however, can be held concurrently with the Nov. 6 election.
City Attorney David Tourek, meanwhile, argued that the City Council wasn’t required to hold an election on the minimum-wage initiative because the wording on the petitions signed by voters – and proposed for the ballot – is confusing. The solution is for OLÃ‰ to go back and gather signatures in favor of a proposal with the correct wording, he said.
“It’s not coherent,” Tourek said of the current proposal.
The petitions and ballot summary for the wage proposal include extraneous words in one line that make it sound like employers would pay themselves rather than employees the new minimum wage of $8.50 an hour.
But OLÃ‰ attorney Molly Schmidt-Nowara argued that it’s “pure speculation” that anybody would be confused by the typo on the petition wording. The meaning is obvious, she said, and the city has no right to refuse putting it on the ballot.
Matthew Hoyt, an attorney for City Clerk Amy Bailey, argued that it’s up to the City Council to decide when to schedule an election on the matter. In other words, the court can’t order the clerk to put the wage proposal specifically on the Nov. 6 ballot, he said.
Hoyt offered some alternatives for the judge:
⋄ Order the council to hold an election within 90 days, even if it’s within the state-mandated “blackout period,” under the theory that the City Charter trumps state law in this case.
⋄ Or order the council to hold an election, but only after the blackout period concludes on Dec. 6. That scenario would give state law precedence over the charter.
Nash said she would try to have a ruling by early this morning.
The court battle came after OLÃ‰ and others gathered petition signatures this summer in favor of a proposal to boost Albuquerque’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour for most employees. Bailey, the city clerk, certified in August that they had met the signature requirement to formally propose the measure.
City councilors last week voted unanimously against considering a resolution to put the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. Several said they believed the question would go on the ballot automatically, even if they didn’t act.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal