LD-6 State Senator Sylvia Allen wants to give Arizona voters a chance to decide if the current $10.50 an hour minimum wage is as high as it should ever go. This, in spite of the fact that voters just last year approved a statewide referendum to raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and Flagstaff voters, her constituents, approved a gradually increasing living wage that tops out at $15.50 in 2021.
Her proposal, SCR 1016, would also override existing local laws–like one in Flagstaff–that provide for a higher minimum wage than the state requires and preclude other communities from enacting their own laws. And, it would also entirely repeal another provision of the 2016 law, one that 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.”
Robles 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 called the minimum wage “immoral,” saying that government doesn’t have the right to tell private businesses what to do. We wonder how far that extends: Can government preclude private businesses from employing 8-year-olds or engaging in racial discrimination? Allen’s statement was categorical and she’s certainly consistently opposed any government regulation during her terms in the legislature. The new entry into the LD-6 House race, Stuart McDaniel shares Allen’s opposition to the very existence of a minimum wage.
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. Robles predicted that if lawmakers insist on putting this on the ballot that voters will simply reaffirm that they want the state’s minimum wage to reach $12 by 2020 as well as ensure that workers do get a guarantee of some paid days off.
Why are Republican lawmakers spending time trying to undo something that voters just approved? “Instead of focusing on our education system, which is dead last, instead of focusing on infrastructure, or instead of focusing on jobs, they’re instead looking to reduce wages of workers,” Robles said. “It’s sad,” he said. “And it’s a reflection of how much Republicans in this Legislature are willing to put the will of the Chamber of Commerce above the voters and our workers in Arizona.”
Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, January 26, 2018, as reprinted in the Arizona Daily Sun.