No on Amendment 70

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce opposes a constitutional amendment to incrementally raise the minimum wage in Colorado to $12 an hour by 2020.

No surprise there. We know a thing or two about lagging wages on the Western Slope, which reflect labor market conditions that won’t magically change because voters want to do right by the state’s working poor.

It’s a noble idea — one we would be more likely to support if the proposed amendment provided more flexibility and factored in employment challenges for the rural parts of the state.

But Amendment 70 is a one-size-fits-all solution that imposes the same wage structure on the economically strapped Western Slope as the more affluent resort towns and Front Range. It’s too big an increase in too short a time with no framework to make adjustments. Because Amendment 70 is embedded in the constitution, the Legislature can’t tweak it.

Colorado voters have already taken steps to prevent the minimum wage from stagnating. In 2006, voters approved a minimum-wage increase and a requirement that it rise with inflation. That boost has already raised the minimum wage by more than 61 percent in the last decade. Amendment 70 would increase the minimum wage by an additional 44 percent over the next four years.

Proponents say this will improve employee productivity and morale and reduce turnover. Opponents, like the chamber, warn of layoffs, reduced hours and reduced benefits for the very workers the higher wage is meant to help.

Gov. John Hickenlooper recently endorsed the measure, but not before expressing reservations about the lack of a rural rate and the lack of a compromise on the “tip credit.”

The $3.02 tip credit — or the amount less from the current minimum wage that tipped workers can be paid — won’t be adjusted. That means the minimum wage for tipped employees, like servers and bartenders, will increase by 70 percent — more than the 44 percent increase for non-tippped workers.

Those who can keep full-time hours will certainly benefit. But what about teens looking for a first job? Will the wage scale price them out of a job? Will we see businesses turn to automation as wages rival the cost of investing in technology? How will a higher minimum wage affect pay and morale for long-tenured employees who earned $12 an hour through years of service and are suddenly back on the lowest rung of the pay scale?

There are simply too many unanswered questions and too many potential unintended consequences to support the amendment. If voters reject this, there are still ways to address the issue thoughtfully, through collaboration and compromise. A geographic exception and a recalibrated tip credit would be good places to start.

Businesses here have a harder time absorbing costs than those in more prosperous areas. Adding to that burden during hard economic times makes no sense. Vote no on Amendment 70.


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