Should Colorado increase the minimum wage? Yes.
Should Colorado voters do this by approving Amendment 42? No.
This is another one of those issues that should not be written into the already overburdened and unwieldy state Constitution.
However, it is right and proper for the Legislature to openly debate this issue, giving residents an opportunity to get firsthand pro and con information and, importantly, to know how their representatives vote on the issue.
The quantum leap from $5.15 to $6.85 is too much, too soon.
Placing a provision in the state Constitution making it mandatory to raise this figure by the rate of inflation every year also is wrongheaded. There would be years where economic conditions might not warrant upward movement.
It is small-business operators and their workers who will be adversely affected if this ill-advised amendment is approved. Faced with this large of a wage increase less than two months after the election, many small businesses would have to economize by cutting back, through either job reduction or trimming benefits they might already be paying. Either way, workers would get the shaft.
Supporters of 42 seem to subscribe to the money-grows-on-trees school of thought. The reality is that a sudden and sizable increase in the cost of doing business has to be made up somewhere, and for some firms, it might be the difference between solvency and insolvency — unless, of course, they can pass the increase along to the consumer, and we all know who that is.
Another solid reason for rejecting the amendment is found in the numbers proponents are using. They are seriously flawed.
They depend upon federal hourly wage data that clearly overstate the number of Colorado workers who would be affected by the amendment. This is because the feds include workers not covered by the minimum wage laws. And in some cases, the information understates some workers’ earnings because it does not include tips and other forms of pay. And with all due respect for the efforts of waitstaff, who would see their minimum increase from $2.13 an hour to $3.83 an hour under the amendment, rare is the person in that field who does not far exceed even the higher wage the amendment would set for non-tip workers.
However, that can vary, especially where tips are shared among other workers, and this base, too, should be increased through legislative action, not via amending the state constitution.
If Amendment 42 fails, the minimum wage issue can return to lawmakers, in whose hands it belongs.
Proponents of a minimum wage increase should urge state legislators to hammer out a reasonable increase for the state in next year’s session.
And Congress next year should bring a federal minimum wage increase to the floor for debate — not as a campaign tactic, but in an honest effort to help low-earning workers who really need a hand.
The minimum wage needs to be raised, but that can be done in measured steps that allow business to make appropriate adjustments that hopefully will not reduce employment opportunities for workers.