New Mexico court approves Albuquerque minimum wage proposal for November ballot

October 3, 2012 | Economic Opportunity Institute

The New Mexico Supreme Court rebuffs an attempt by business lobbyists to block a minimum wage initiative signed by 20,000 Albuquerque residents

Albuquerque, New Mexico – photo by Ken Lund/Flickr Creative Commons

Voters in Albuquerque, New Mexico will get to decide this November whether to raise the city’s minimum wage, after the New Mexico Supreme Court ordered the City of Albuquerque last night to allow the ballot initiative to proceed. The ruling, following an emergency appeal, means the city’s minimum wage could be raised to $8.50 and then adjusted each year to keep up with the cost of living, if voters approve the proposal.  The measure would also raise the minimum wage for tipped employees.

“The ruling is a tremendous victory for Albuquerque’s working families,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP).  “With record numbers of Americans in poverty and most new jobs paying very low wages, an increase in the minimum wage is badly needed, in Albuquerque and around the country.”

“Big business tried to use its clout to block the democratic process here in Albuquerque,” said Matthew Henderson, the executive director of the OLÉ Education Fund, the community organization leading the campaign to raise the city’s minimum wage.  “We’re thrilled that the New Mexico Supreme Court put a stop to it so that the voters will get to decide on the minimum wage.”

The initiative seeking to raise the minimum wage was filed with the city this summer, with the support of more than 20,000 Albuquerque voters.  The leadership of the Albuquerque City Council and the New Mexico Restaurant Association had attempted to prevent the measure from going on the ballot, despite the fact that the measure had garnered more than enough signatures to qualify.

Earlier this month in Missouri, the restaurant industry and payday lending industry blocked a pair of initiatives to raise that state’s minimum wage and crack down on payday lending, spending millions of dollars on a series of legal challenges that ran out the clock for putting the measures on the ballot.

When ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage reach the voters, they have in almost all cases been approved by substantial majorities.  In 2004 and 2006, voters in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio all passed initiatives to raise the minimum wage, adjust it each year based on the cost of living, and raise the wage for tipped employees.  This fall, a similar initiative will go before voters in San Jose, California.

Albuquerque enacted a city minimum wage in 2006, which is currently $7.50 per hour.  Santa Fe, New Mexico enacted a city minimum wage in 2003, which is currently $10.29 — the nation’s highest.

Lawyers for the City of Albuquerque and the restaurant industry attempted to justify the city’s refusal to place the measure on the ballot with three legal arguments:  that a minor typo discovered in the summary entitled the city to keep it off the ballot; that the city wasn’t required to put it on the November 6 ballot and could instead schedule an election at some other time in the future; and that the measure improperly combined raising the minimum wage, adjusting it for inflation, and raising wages for tipped employees – issues that the restaurant industry charged should be presented to the voters as separate ballot initiatives.

On Tuesday, a state trial judge ruled that the city could keep the measure off the ballot.  The judge ruled that the typo was not a problem, but held that the initiative improperly combined multiple proposals.  On Wednesday the New Mexico Supreme Court heard an emergency appeal, and shortly after the argument ordered the city to place the measure on the November 6 ballot.

The problem of most new jobs paying low wages is gaining national attention.  A new NELP analysis found that 58% of the jobs created in the U.S. since the recession pay very low wages.  A similar report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research  showed that the shift in the economy towards low-wage jobs is a 30-year trend that is only accelerating.  Another recent NELP report found that 66% of low-wage employees work for large companies, not small businesses, and that more than 70% of the biggest low-wage employers have fully recovered from the recession and are enjoying strong profits.

The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers.  For more about NELP, visit www.nelp.org or www.raisetheminimumwage.org.

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Posted in Minimum Wage

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