Originally Published: February 13, 2018 6:02 a.m.
PHOENIX — Calling the voter-approved measure morally wrong, a Republican-controlled Senate panel voted Monday to ask voters to reconsider the 2016 measure, which is set to hike the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.
SCR 1016 would not entirely rescind what was approved by a margin of 58-42 percent. And wages would not go back to the $8.05 an hour they were two years ago.
But it would repeal future scheduled increases, freezing the minimum employers must pay at the current $10.50 an hour.
What it also would do — if voters really do have second thoughts — is eliminate another provision of the 2016 law which says that full-time employees are entitled to at least three days of paid sick leave.
Monday’s 5-3 party-line vote by the Committee on Commerce and Public Safety sends the measure to the full Senate. If it is approved there and by the House, also controlled by Republicans, the question would go to voters in November.
Michelle Sims, a professor of economics at Arizona Western College testified that research she is doing for her doctoral dissertation found a vast majority of rural businesses have had to increase their prices or cut employee hours as a result of the 2016 measure.
Other rural business owners told lawmakers of their own problems and inability to simply pass on higher costs to customers.
“People will only pay so much for trail mix and peanuts,’’ said Donna George of Yuma.
And Olivia Long, a 2017 Payson High School graduate, said the local family owned coffee shop where she worked part time while going to school had to increase prices when the minimum wage got bumped to $10 an hour in January 2017. The result, she said, is customers are now going to Starbucks.
Tomas Robles, co-director of Living United for Change in Arizona, the organization that spearheaded the initiative, had his own take on those stories.
“These are lies,’’ he argued. Robles cited figures which show unemployment in Arizona is at the lowest rate in a decade and that employment in the traditionally low-paying leisure and hospitality sector not only has risen since the measure was approved but has outpaced the national average.
But Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, the sponsor of SCR 1016, said the issue goes beyond the effect on small businesses.
“Your business is your private property,’’ she told colleagues.
“No one has the right to tell a business what they have to pay to an individual,’’ Allen continued. “They don’t know the particulars of that business. They don’t know the liability that they carry.’’
That theme was echoed by Diana Links who said she owns a catering firm.
“My family took a risk, not the voters of Arizona,’’ she said. Link said her company, which provides lunches for charter schools, has been unable to make up the difference in the higher labor costs by raising its prices.
“The minimum wage increase has been a disaster for my business,’’ she said.
And Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said the entire concept of having voters set a higher minimum wage is questionable.
“I believe I have a moral responsibility to be generous with my own money,’’ he said. “But I believe it’s completely immoral to be generous with other people’s money.’’
Supporters, however, saw the issue in terms of the broader good.
David Wells, research director of the Grand Canyon Institute, acknowledged that taking wages from $8.05 an hour to $12 will result in the loss of about 13,000 jobs. But Wells said his study shows that about 800,000 Arizonans will see more in their paychecks.
And then there is the question of whether voters really made a mistake.
Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, told colleagues that the margin of victory for the measure is actually larger than most of them won their own seats. Nor was he swayed by arguments that a minimum wage hike is improper taking of money from one group and giving it to another.
“We do that all the time,’’ Bowie said, pointing to not only the tax cuts given to corporations but even the decision by the Ducey administration to slash the number of auditors whose job it is to ensure that these firms at least pay what they owe.
Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, went along with his GOP colleagues and voted to put the issue on the November ballot. But Worsley he said he has no illusion that someone the outcome will be different, even with extensive rural opposition.
“I suspect it will pass again,’’ he said, pointing out that the vast majority of voters live in the state’s urban areas.