By SAM LOUNSBERRY February 10, 2020
Boulder City Council last month made it a priority to raise the minimum wage within city limits, and at the council’s meeting with Boulder County Commissioners on Monday, leaders said a regional increase offers advantages to municipal action.
While the minimum wage in the state rose for 2020 to $12 an hour, and $8.98 an hour for tipped employees, a Colorado law passed last year allows local governments to further hike the minimum wages.
But it also limited how many minimum wage increases can take place across the state. No more than 10% of local governments can enact minimum wage laws, meaning that once that threshold has been hit, a city or county that seeks to do so would have to wait for state lawmakers to amend the law and increase the cap.
Councilman Adam Swetlik said that having the county as a whole, instead of each of its cities separately, increase its minimum wage across its borders would count as only one entity toward that 10% cap. Officials are set to start examining the process this spring, with the assembly of a “local wage working group” that would advise public officials on a potential minimum wage increase.
City and council officials envision the group including representatives from chambers of commerce within the county, the Colorado Restaurant Association and the hospitality industry, as well as childcare providers, school districts, the University of Colorado, unions and local governments.
“If we can figure this out all together, that would reduce complaints that this affects business competition, because everyone would be playing by the same rules individually and it would only take one bite out of the apple that the Legislature had laid out for us,” Swetlik said.
The regional approach is also preferred by restaurants, but an increase in minimum wages is still likely to hit the bottom lines of businesses, result in a rise in prices or both, according to business leaders.
“It is very challenging when a restaurant in one area has to pay a higher wage than another one two minutes down the street. They are forced to increase prices, giving them a competitive disadvantage,” Colorado Restaurant Association President and CEO Sonia Riggs said in an email.
Riggs added the organization prefers a statewide approach over a patchwork of varying minimum wages across Colorado, but that a countywide increase is better than a city by city change.