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Opponents Of Wage Hike Want Phase-In

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Opponents of the voter-approved minimum wage plan to ask city councilors to make changes to the new ordinance rather than fight the wage increase in court.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association wants councilors to amend the wage increase by phasing it in over time — perhaps by 50 cents a year over two years.

The minimum wage is now set to increase a dollar an hour on Jan. 1.

If that fails, the association may start its own petition initiative to put the phase-in idea to voters, said Carol Wight, chief executive officer of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

The group is “asking the council to take a rational approach to implementation,” she said Monday in an interview. “People’s (business owners’) budgets were not made with this change in mind.”

Although business groups had questioned whether the proposal was legal, the restaurant association is pessimistic a court challenge would succeed, Wight said.

The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce agrees.

“This measure passed with such a significant voting margin that it would make a continued fight in court very difficult,” Chamber president Terri Cole said.

Albuquerque voters last month adopted an ordinance boosting the minimum wage by $1 to $8.50 an hour, starting Jan. 1. Tipped employees will see an increase, too.

The proposal passed with about 66 percent of the vote.

City Attorney David Tourek said the council has authority to amend the wage ordinance or even overturn it.

“The City Council can pass an ordinance changing an existing ordinance, even one that was initiated by the voters,” Tourek said.

Matthew Henderson, executive director of Olé New Mexico, said opponents should just accept the election results. Olé was part of the coalition that circulated petitions to get the wage on the ballot.

“I think any time you meddle with the will of the voters, it’s a bad idea,” he said. “They’re talking about basically challenging the super-majority of voters who approved the measure.”

Henderson said opponents are overstating the burden on businesses.

Whether councilors will step into the debate is unclear.

Councilor Trudy Jones said she’s willing to at least consider the phase-in request. But she’s more interested in another change — eliminating a provision in the ordinance that calls for automatic cost-of-living increases based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.

Jones said she’s not sure voters understood that part of the ordinance or its devastating consequences if there’s double-digit inflation.

“That needs to be looked at and changed” through council legislation, Jones said.

Wight said the phase-in is a worthwhile change because the wage hike won a spot on the ballot rather late in the year, making it difficult for businesses to plan for it. She also questioned whether the city will be prepared to enforce the ordinance.

“Implementation at a slower level would get everybody ready to put this into place,” she said.

The minimum wage proposal was brought forth through a provision in the City Charter that allows for voter initiatives. Supporters gathered thousands of petition signatures last summer to force the council to either pass the ordinance or hold an election on the issue.

A similar effort is now under way to change the City Charter’s provision on runoff elections. More than 12,000 voter signatures are required.

In September, the Supreme Court ordered the wage increase onto the Nov. 6 ballot after councilors failed to take action on it.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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