Opinion | Susan Knopf: Raise the minimum wage

September 6, 2019

Time is running out, and minimum wage is a lot more complicated than you think.

Our state Rep. Julie McCluskie said, “The current minimum wage does not provide a livable wage.”

The newly passed House Bill 19-1210 isn’t going to give anybody a livable wage anytime soon. All this talk about $15 per hour cannot happen before 2022. Here’s the lowdown:

Current Colorado minimum wage: $11.10
Colorado minimum wage in 2020: $12.00
HB19-1210 allows local governments to raise the local minimum wage $1.75 or 15%, whichever is greater, above the state mandated minimum wage, and no sooner than January 2020. The new wage can’t take effect before January 2021. The earliest we could see a locally enacted increase in minimum wage is January 2021. The most that wage could be is $13.75. After that, the local minimum wage can be increased locally every year. That’s the Pandora’s box business leaders don’t want you to open.

For the record, the MIT Living Wage Calculator says $14.67 is the current minimum living wage for a single adult in Summit County. (That assumes your rent is about $1,000 per month, and that means roommates.) So we have a significant gap between what people get paid and what it costs to live in Summit County.

McCluskie says, “I am committed to making sure the local working people in our community and across the state have access to jobs that pay a livable wage.” She voted for HB19-1210. But it seems despite her best efforts, we just keep chasing the ball down the field. We never seem to get the ball in the goal.

McCluskie hopes for a “thoughtful stakeholder process” So does Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence. County manager Scott Vargo says a committed stakeholder workgroup hopes to have recommendations by the end of December.

Good idea, because HB19-1210 caps at 10% the number of local governments that can raise their local minimum wages. January 2020 is the earliest date local governments can make the change, but it also might be the latest, as communities snap up their rationed rights.

This opportunity is available to 332 local governments which includes:

168 towns
85 home rule cities
60 counties
14 cities
2 home rule counties
2 city and county
1 territorial charter city
That means only 33 localities can adopt this new power permitted under HB19-1210. Summit County is not “home rule,” so if the county passes it without the towns it would only apply to unincorporated areas. According to Lawrence that includes all the ski areas but Breckenridge. If we can get everybody on one page, and all parties sign an intergovernmental agreement, that means we might have one countywide decision versus different decisions in every home rule town.

This doesn’t have to go on a referendum, but the referendum might give local officials more cover. The increase in our state minimum wage came from the voters.

Business leaders are opposed to putting it to the voters. Summit County Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 400 businesses, “opposes any local efforts to control or otherwise influence wage and compensation.” What business wants to see the cost of operations go up? I’m guessing voters who represent employers and workers can figure out what’s best for the community.

Business leaders say higher wages will mean fewer jobs. So far that doesn’t seem to be happening elsewhere. According to Quartz, “By 2022, 17% of Americans will live in a city or state with a $15 minimum wage.”

University of California, Los Angeles’ Anderson Review reports economic research cuts both ways on this hotly debated, much researched topic. “The basic supply and demand model just doesn’t work for the labor market.” said Edward E. Leamer, a UCLA Anderson economist. When Seattle upped its minimum wage, University of California, Berkeley and the University of Washington researched whether the job market contracted. Each study contradicted the other.

What’s interesting to me is the ski industry and restaurateurs seem to be the most concerned about the wage issue, and they have the greatest flexibility to raise prices to cover costs.

Bottom line, if you want to see your wages go up, you better let public officials know. Wave your banner: “Raise the Wage!”

Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at sdnknopf@gmail.com.