PHOENIX – A state lawmaker wants to give Arizona voters a chance to decide if the current $10.50 an hour minimum wage is as high as it should go.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said her proposal would not repeal what voters approved last year, at least not entirely. The wage gains that already have taken place -- from $8.05 an hour in 2016 to $10.50 now -- would remain intact.
But she wants to put a question on the November ballot to block the future increases that are supposed to take place between now and 2020 when, unless repealed, the minimum wage would hit $12 an hour.
Her proposal, SCR 1016, also would override existing local laws such as in Flagstaff which provide for a higher minimum wage than the state requires and preclude other communities from enacting their own laws.
And it would repeal entirely another provision of the 2016 law which requires employers to provide at least three days of paid sick leave per year for all employees.
The move drew derision from Tomas Robles whose Living United for Change in Arizona organization spearheaded both the petition drive that put the wage hike on the ballot and the campaign to convince a majority of the people who went to the polls to vote for it.
“It’s incredible how far they’re willing to go to put the needs of the Chamber of Commerce and special interests before the will of the voters,” he said, referring to the role the state chamber took in its unsuccessful bid to kill the measure. Robles called the whole effort “disgusting.”
Allen, for her part, said she think voters might have second thoughts once they understand the effects the wage hike and required time off is having on small businesses, firms that lack the flexibility and the profit margin to deal with the mandates.
But Robles brushed aside concerns.
He pointed out that foes of the 2016 initiative predicted it would harm the economy and result in layoffs, particularly in low-wage industries like bars and restaurants.
Yet the record shows that the state’s jobless rate is at the lowest point in about a decade. And the most recent figures from the state Office of Economic Opportunity shows the number of people working at food service and drinking places has actually increased by 12,700 in the past year, a 5.5 percent increase.
And there have been secondary effects, he said, as the close to one million workers who were affected by the 2016 initiative had more in their paychecks, allowing them to spend more and boost the overall economy.
Allen, however, says her personal experience is that the higher wages have hurt those at the bottom of the pay scale. That includes a kindergarten aide who Allen said told her that her hours had been cut.
“It’s horrible if you’re the person it’s happening to,” she said.
She does not dispute the improved state economy. But Allen said it is not due to higher wages.
“The market’s starting to improve because of the great things President Trump has been doing,” she said.
Allen acknowledged that her opposition goes beyond the practical effects on employers. She said it’s “just wrong” for government to get involved in the free market.
“To mandate these wages was, to me, an immoral thing,” Allen said.
“I don’t individually have the right to go in and tell anybody how they run their business,” she said. “It’s their private property.”
Allen also said her proposal is not radical, pointing out that she’s not asking voters to rescind the entire 2016 vote and put the minimum wage back to $8.05 an hour.
“Holding the minimum wage at $10.50 is a great minimum wage,” she said. And freezing it there unless and until voters seek a change provides “stability” to business owners.
Robles said the margin of victory — 58.3 percent of those who turned out — proves this issue is popular across a broad segment of the population. By contrast, Allen won her most recent general election by less than 51 percent.
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