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Local Control of Minimum Wage Faces Uphill Battle

Allowing local governments to set their own minimum wages is a hurdle supporters are trying once again to get over in the Colorado Legislature this week. (Palto/iStockphoto)
Allowing local governments to set their own minimum wages is a hurdle supporters are trying once again to get over in the Colorado Legislature this week. (Palto/iStockphoto)
February 15, 2016

DENVER - A new bill that would allow local governments to set their own minimum wages could face an uphill battle in the Colorado Senate this week.

According to a report by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, an adult with an infant and preschooler in Morgan County would need to make at least $20 an hour to get by without public assistance, almost $12 more than the current minimum wage.

Aubrie Hasvold, family economic security program associate with the Center, says the cost of living for a parent and two children in Pitkin County is more than twice as high as in Kit Carson County.

"We're really hoping that legislators will see the value in giving cities and counties that capacity to provide for their own residents in a way they see fit, based on their local economy and community," says Hasvold.

She adds that, of the state's 65 counties, $8.31 an hour is only enough to support a one-person household in Bent, Custer and Otero counties.

Business groups that oppose Senate Bill 54 claim it would create an uneven playing field between towns, and force businesses where wages are higher to limit hiring or cut hours. A similar measure failed in last year's session.

Hasvold says Colorado's minimum wage brings in just over $17,000 a year for a full-time worker, well below the federal poverty level for a family of three. She says many full-time workers at profitable companies turn to public assistance programs just to make ends meet.

"So, when people don't earn a living wage, taxpayers are essentially subsidizing employers," she says. "Because we are footing the bill for a lot of these public benefits, like food stamps."

The measure aims to repeal legislation passed in 1999 that preempts local minimum wage hikes. Senate Bill 54 will be heard by the Senate's State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Wed., Feb. 17.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO