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Down Ballot

It’s early October and in just a few short weeks Americans all across the nation will head to the polls.

When citizens in Colorado cast their ballots this fall they will be deciding on a number of policy issues from a proposed universal healthcare program for the State to physician assisted suicide. Among the nine initiatives certified for this year’s ballot is Amendment 70, which would increase the state’s minimum wage.

The initiative proposes increasing the Colorado minimum wage incrementally over the course of four-years from the current level of $8.31 an hour to $12 per hour. The amendment would continue to adjust the minimum wage each year thereafter based on cost-of-living increases.

If Amendment 70 is approved Colorado’s minimum wage will increase to $9.30 per hour beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. The Amendment would then see the state minimum wage increase by $0.90 per hour annually, implemented on Jan. 1 each year, until 2020 when the rate would reach $12.

“The initiative proposes increasing the Colorado minimum wage incrementally over the course of four-years from the current level of $8.31 an hour to $12 per hour. The amendment would continue to adjust the minimum wage each year thereafter based on cost-of-living increases.”

The state minimum wage would continue to increase annually after 2020 with the amount of increase being based on cost-of-living increases. The breakdown in increases from 2017 to 2020 would look like this: Jan. 1 2017 – $9.30 per hour, Jan. 1 2018 – $10.20 per hour, Jan. 1 2019 – $11.10 per hour, and Jan. 1 2020 – $12 per hour.

Colorado’s minimum wage is currently $1.06 above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Colorado’s minimum wage began increasing on a more regular basis after state voters approved an amendment to the State Constitution in 2006 mandating a minimum wage of $6.85 per hour.

The amendment required the state minimum wage to increase or decrease based on changes in inflation as measured through the Colorado consumer price index. Under Colorado’s current laws the state minimum wage could potentially decrease if the cost-of-living were to fall. Amendment 70 would change that provision and not allow for decreases even with a fall in the cost-of-living.

The amendment approved in 2006 also set the State’s minimum wage for tipped workers, pegging tipped worker minimum wage at $3.02 less than the state minimum for non-tipped workers, whatever the state minimum may be.

Currently the State’s Department of Labor and Employment sets the statewide minimum wage each year in Jan. The State does not allow municipalities to set local minimum wages higher than the State’s, though such actions are allowed under federal law.

According to information taken from the Colorado State Blue Book, which provides nonpartisan factual outlines of proposed statewide initiatives, the, “occupations of workers most likely to be paid minimum wage include retail salespeople, food service workers, child care workers, janitors, and home health aides.”

The Colorado State Blue Book offers arguments for and against the Amendment which are too lengthy to cover in detail in this article but to put it in overly simplistic terms supporters of the measure call for raising the minimum wage to cover basic living costs for workers, which proponents contend are higher than can be covered through a 40-hour work week at minimum wage. Proponents argue that any cost-of-living not covered by wages is returned to state taxpayers through welfare and other assistance programs for poor families.

Opponents of the amendment contend that increasing minimum wage hurts the very people the measure purports to help by harming small business, which employ vast numbers of people in the state, increasing minimum wage worker lay-offs, and potentially increasing costs of goods and products as businesses adjust their prices in the face of increasing labor costs. Opponents also argue that approving the amendment will have a disproportionally adverse affect on rural communities where cost-of-living is lower than the Denver Metro area.

The amendment has significant supporters and opponents. According to the ballot measure information aggregation website Ballotpedia the Amendment is supported by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, 2016 Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein, several State Democratic politicians and the Boulder City Council.

Notable opponents of the Amendment include: the Denver Post, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Restaurant Association, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Aurora Chamber and certain State Republican politicians.