Lamborn and Musgrave Pave Way For Constitutional Wage Increase?

A ballot measure to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 an hour is set to take effect in January, after Colorado voters choose to support the increase by 53% on Election Day. The minimum wage is now part of the state constitution and will increase annually based on inflation.

Before the election, the group Respect Colorado’s Constitution (registered to known GOP attorney Scott Gessler) released a slew of ads opposing the measure, and claimed that “Colorado’s constitution is the wrong place for a minimum wage mandate.”

But in Colorado, it’s illegal to change wages on the local level, and that’s thanks in part to Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave and Congressman-elect Doug Lamborn. In 1999, when Lamborn and Musgrave were both state senators, they worked to pass Senate bill 99-014, which makes it illegal for local governments to increase wages:

  (II) NO UNIT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT, WHETHER BY ACTING THROUGH ITS GOVERNING BODY OR AN INITIATIVE, A REFERENDUM, OR ANY OTHER PROCESS, SHALL ENACT ANY JURISDICTION-WIDE LAW OR ORDINANCE WITH RESPECT TO MINIMUM WAGES UNLESS SPECIFICALLY AUTHORIZED TO DO SO BY THIS ARTICLE; EXCEPT THAT A UNIT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT MAY SET MINIMUM WAGES PAID TO ITS OWN EMPLOYEES.

With local autonomy taken away, labor leaders began to realize that the only way to raise the minimum wage was going to be on the state level.  They also knew that they didn’t want to leave wages to the politicians who initiated the ban in the first place.

As Denver Area Labor Federation (DALF) president Leslie Moody explains, labor had little choice but to add the measure to Colorado’s already cluttered constitution:

“It has to be guaranteed in the constitution or we fear it would get gutted based on political opportunities for legislators,” Moody says.

According to the Bell Policy Center, a nonprofit think-tank, the increase will directly effect about 3% of Colorado’s workforce, and 65,000 additional workers are estimated to get raises in the future.

It would also appear that current state treasurer Mark Hillman was in favor of the ban when he was serving as a senator. Hillman was narrowly defeated by Democrat Cary Kennedy for the treasurer position during the election.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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